To add to a week that has been full of tragedy, today marked the one year anniversary of the crash of Germanwings flight 4U9525.
Marking perhaps the darkest day in Lufthansa’s history, 144 passengers and 6 crew members lost their lives when the A320 was intentionally crashed in the French Alps, near Le Vernet. The flight had been scheduled to fly between Barcelona and Dusseldorf. Unfortunately the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, took it upon himself to cast the fate of the passengers and his colleagues.
If there is any silver lining to this, it does appear that aviation authorities in Germany and the EU have undertaken steps to help prevent a tragedy like this from happening again. As part of the new rules that took effect almost immediately after the crash, it is now a requirement for the cockpit to always have 2 people in it. In addition, it appears as though rules relaxing strict privacy protection will be changed so that Doctors do not have to live in fear of committing a felony if they report their patient to an employer if they suspect that their patient can be a threat to themselves or to others.
I remember the day quite clearly since the crash took place while I was asleep in a hotel room next to Paine Field in Everett, Washington awaiting to board the delivery flight of Lufthansa’s Retro-Livery 747-8i, D-ABYT, or as she is commonly referred to, ‘Yankee Tango’. The delivery flight which was supposed to be a source of celebration for Lufthansa’s 60th Anniversary turned into a memorial to those who lost their lives. And because this was a unique aircraft due to its livery, it also served as a symbol of resilience and determination to move forward.
In a long awaited report on their findings, France’s BEA released its final summary on the Germanwings tragedy and their recommendations for a way forward. Sadly, we’re 11 days away from the 1 year anniversary (March 24, 2015).
The report covered much of what had already been known. They confirmed that pilot Andreas Lubitz intentionally crashed the aircraft and took 150 lives. They also confirmed that he had been under a number of medical treatments and prescriptions to help him deal with depression and other medical conditions.
The BEA went on to recommend that Germany’s (and other countries) privacy policies need to be reviewed and amended that would allow medical professionals to share sensitive information with employers if there is the potential for pilots to cause harm to themselves or others. One of the biggest shortcomings of Germany’s strict privacy rules is that it discourages doctors from sharing any information. In fact, breaking these rules results in criminal charges that can be brought against doctors and others in possession of such information. The rules are so strict, that one of Lubitz’s doctors refused to be interviewed for the report due to fears of violation the pilot’s privacy.
To this end, the BEA has recommended that aviation agencies and governments review their privacy laws and create exceptions that would protect doctors and other professionals when it came to sharing information, especially when lives would cleary be at risk.
The report also went on to recommend a structure be put in place to protect pilots in the event they would be grounded due to medical issues. The report cited that Lubitz’s fear of losing his job may have lead to him to withold medical information from Lufthansa. The BEA suggested a ‘safe haven’ created by airlines would allow their pilots to deal with their medical issues without fear of losing their jobs while undergoing treatment. They also called for additional examinations and scrutiny for pilots who have experienced psychological issues in the past.
The BEA also went on to suggest softening Germany’s strict medical rules for pilots that would mirror others around the world. The example they used was the US’ FAA rules that allow pilots to be on certain anti-depressants but would still be allowed to fly. Apparently, German has a near 0-tolerance policy when it comes to pilots and these types of medications. The BEA felt that loosening these restrictions would encourage pilots to come forward with their issues and receive support from their employers.
Aside from the medical policy recommendations, the BEA made it clear that no new procedures need to be brought into the cockpit or aboard an aircraft. Their findings found that it would be impossible to defend against such actions and stated that the current policy requiring 2 persons in the cockpit at all times is sufficient. They cited that a hijacking risk greatly outweighed the risk of a suicidal pilot so creating a way to unlock the cockpit door from the outside would not be acceptable.
Predictably, families of the victims that met with the BEA earlier on Sunday to review the report were disappointed. The general consensus among them was that the report focused too much on the pilot and the policies surrounding privacy and nothing was said about what Lufthansa’s or germanwings’ liability ought to be.
Lufthansa will begin to repatriate the victims who lost their lives as a result of the Germanwings crash this past March.
A Lufthansa Cargo MD11 will transport the first 30 victims on June 9 when it flies from Marseille, France to Dusseldorf, Germany. The flight is expected to depart at 8:50p and arrive in DUS at 10:30p. The victims’ remains will then be transferred to family members on June 10. Lufthansa has been in close contact with each family to make sure their wishes are honored during this heartbreaking experience.
Lufthansa will continue these flights throughout the month of June and will repatriate the victims to their families in their respective countries.