March 27, 2015; As we informed yesterday, the Germanwing’s co-pilot had a pause in his training at Lufthansa’s pilot school in Bremen during 2009. Further details have since been revealed by, among others, the Dusseldorf’s prosecutors office. The leave for Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot that flew 4U9525 to ground, due to sickness, from pilot training in 2009 was a long one; sources talk about 18 months.
The problem should have been psychological, a so-called burnout (Europe) or breakdown (US). Having experience with work colleagues who were hit with work-related burnout, I have seen some of the causes and consequences. The cause in the cases I have seen was over-ambition, the desire to do one’s work in the best possible way and to take on more than one could handle. The result is grave stress which in these cases led to inability to carry out the daily work and long sick leaves, with duration closer years than months.
I am describing this and Lubitz’s reported illness to give context to today’s revelation by Dusseldorf prosecutor Ralf Herrenbruck that Lubitz’s apartments had been searched and things were found that could give clues to his actions:
Nothing was revealed by the prosecutor of what the treatment cause was but in the cases I describe the work situation had to be changed to stop burnouts from recurring.
Two person cockpits
French psychological experts appearing on Nationwide networks have described that the idea to lock a cockpit door and to commit suicide by crashing an aircraft can be premeditated but can also be thought of a psychotic moment. Both are dependent of the suitable moment appearing and this is where we are coming to the real subject of this column: no cockpits with pilots left alone.
Historically the cockpits have made these kind of tragic events few and far apart. Older aircraft required a three man crew. Thereby the situation with a pilot alone in the cockpit did not happen and the kind of events of the last year were few and far apart. The present two person flight crews with a third pilot only for long-range flights has created several orders of magnitude increase of these “moments” when a sick human mind can snap. The debate is already raging what a second cabin crew can achieve in a cockpit if the remaining pilot has decided to take the opportunity to kill himself and all in the aircraft.
To me, the point is that the barrier to psychotic moments gets raised so that in the overwhelming majority of cases, it will simply not trigger. Should a premeditated or psychotic moment deed be triggered, the probability of it succeeding will be significantly diminished with a second person in the cockpit, especially if a bit of procedural thought is put into how the crew member is executing the relief and the rules around it.
For many reasons, the ideas around changes in cockpit door rules and implementations or any other action like remote control to override a pilot gone mad is difficult or impossible to implement. The rule of always two in cockpit is already practiced and is operationally sound and simple. German authorities has today announced that they will consider making this mandatory, SAS has decided to join those that will require it from now on as has many other airlines.
Lets us get rid of single pilot cockpits for airline passenger transportation.