Bjorn’s Corner: Two in cockpit makes sense

By Bjorn Fehrm

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:

  • No suicide letter or similar was found, nor any evidence of political or religious connection to what has happened.
  • The police did find documents that showed that Lubitz was under medical treatment and that he had been given sick-leave including for day that he had crashed the plane. This note was torn and he had not informed Lufthansa that he was seen as unfit for work by his treating doctor.

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.

24 Comments on “Bjorn’s Corner: Two in cockpit makes sense

  1. I agree that the presence of another person in the cockpit of itself is likely to reduce the stress on the remaining pilot. But substitutes for temporarily absent pilots won’t be monitoring the remaining pilot in an active way. Medium to long term I think that issue needs to be addressed, to pre-empt mistakes by pilots as well as malicious acts.

  2. The reasoning is good and I heartily approve of it.

    I think the huge question is do we stop there and accept if that does not deter that is the end of the line or should it be thought through further?

    Should the 3rd person is in the jump seat, have a release of their own not the one on the aircraft control panel only the pilots can.

    It gets complicated but it should override a lock out for a minute or two so that others can get back in if needed.

    longer term is the issue of do you actually have a third person who is to some degree capable of operating the aircraft? .

    The following is a bit long, but to me (and from the work I do on building computer control systems ) is that aircraft design has a narrow focus on a single issue and ignores looking at things as a system.

    So, what struck me about Egyptian suicide e was the control response which was reported as split horizontal tail planes.

    When I asked a simulator flight instructor how in the world the horizontal tail planes could split (i.e. one down and one up) he said that’s what would occur if two pilots did two different inputs form two different controls.

    So should override logic be part of this discussion as well? We are talking the backup person getting the pilot back into the cockpit and trying to get control fighting someone otherwise

    Maybe that finally gets into just too much complication that winds up with no real solution that works?

    While I do a bit of low level control programing, mostly I fix the minor problems but have seen the logic busts where it won’t work the way it needs to and how insane the logic can get (options, and options because they can program them that the old relay and pneumatic logic simply would not try to do because it was not realistic in a reasonable panel size let alone trouble shoot) Add in not the degree of criticality you want for people safety in most cases either.

  3. What has also struck me is how reducing to a two person cockpit became acceptable to be a ONE one person cockpit as logically if one person is out of a two person cockpit there is one pilot left.

    I.e. the point of having two pilots is due in large part (not entirely) to the non flying pilot being the backup (obviously the normal assist in all other function but a single pilot can do those)

    In other words why did the US insist that there be at least a second person in the cockpit and the rest of the world decided a single one was fine and did not thing past the locked door situation despite plenty of reasons to re-think this.

    Please note this is not a stab at the rest of the world. The US has its own issues in regards to air safety. Boeing poor auto throttle setup being one that is still being allowed to exist and probably nothing ever done about it.

    I think the real answer is what came out of the Space Shuttle investigation (that was forgotten to lead to a second tragic loss in humans and treasure)

    The investigator called it “Normalizing Deviation”. You have a situation that is not right, but if it does not bite you accept that as a normal and reset the alarm to the right, i.e. it becomes normal.

    the reason it was an alarm point in the fist place (or a do not go past this) was for solid reasons that get swept under the carpet and you repeat it.

    sometimes it then bites you or you move it another step to the right and it bites you.

    This is a case where it probably did. the terms I am using are mental safeties for me as this most recent one strikes far too close to home.

    I don’t fly internationally anymore and the single aisle flights are the ones I will be on and unlike what some think, none of this is a third world issue (Africa , Egypt and Silk Air). Like AF447 it strikes any otherwise well thought of Airlines (all have their issues but supposedly those should not include flight safety being one of them.)

  4. Royal Air Maroc Flight 630: an ATR-42 crashed in 1994 after take-off. There is little the other pilot could have done to prevent that one. The pilot in command disconnected the autopilot after take-off and pushed the aircraft towards the ground in a steep dive initiated from an altitude of 16000 feet.

  5. If a first officer or captain is determined to ditch the plane into a mountain or the ground, there’s nothing a f/a can do about it. Not to sound insensitive of the current events but…

    • Takes one to know one: I suggest Bipolar illness, a career-ending illness
      perhaps never self-acknowledged, revealed, or discovered by his airline employer. Careless/inconsistent compliance with medication requirements, lack of a doctor’s active oversight, plus a lack of an informed, caring support group often leads to a tragic/fatal outcome. In my view, this young man should never have been in a cockpit.

      At 72, I’m living a healthy, successful, happy family-centered life thanks to 2nd – 3rd generation bipolar medications.

      Please don’t ignore or conceal mental health issues. Face them down!

  6. Agreed, that many flight attendants would not necessarily be able to stop a determined pilot, but on the other hand, a huge element of the implied deterrent is simply presence of a second person. As the French psychological experts pointed out (and I think most would accept this as reasonable), there is no evidence of premeditation, and with a witness present, this pilot may not have followed through on his impulsive so-called ‘psychotic moment’.

    It seems this problem is really about two factors: reduced crew numbers on the flight deck, AND reduced emergency access to the flight deck. Had we not super-reinforced this critical work environment post-9/11, this incident very likely would never have been initiated. Or, if it was initiated, it would have produced a tackled and beat up first officer, a diversion, and an incarceration – but no fatalities.

    Thinking outside the box for a moment, why not aim for three flight crew members? The current two would remain on their full payscale, but the third would be on a developmental payscale, possibly called a second officer, or SO. The SO would ride jumpseat during takeoff and landing, serving as a third set of eyes, listening via headset, and performing from a pre-defined set of functions, when directed by the captain or FO. But, outside of the takeoff and landing portions, the SO would sit in the cabin and rest, study, whatever. Anytime the crew needs a lav-break, the SO would be brought back to the flight deck for short visits as a witness-pilot. Also, the SO would be a real, certified commercial pilot in-training. The regs could be set up so that, with each duty flight as an SO, he or she would earn nominally two hours of flight credit, to build toward their 1,500 hour requirement, as imposed post-Colgan.

    • Cathay Pacific has something like this 3rd person in cockpit. So it is a viable and possible solution that even already exists in real life.

  7. While that sounds good, airlines would cringe at the thought of hiring another warm body to pay just because. The idea of cameras in the cockpit were viewed as intrusive by the pilots union. I am of the opinion that each flight crew should be given separate pins to access the flight deck. Both the captain and 1st officer would keep both pins to themselves but the pin of the captain would override the pin of the first officer and the lead flight attendant would be given a pin to override the one of the captain and the first officer.

    This way if either the captain or the first officer are locked out, the FA can breach the cabin door and allow access to the locked out party. The pins would be 4 digits giving the possibility of 10k possible combinations so that there is less redundancy and 4 digit pins are easy to remember than 5 or longer.

    Once the leg is completed, the pins are reset with the new flight number. Meaning AA flight 5742 to JFK-CDG would have pins 5547, 9800 and 3217. When the flight plan for the next leg is entered, the new pins would accompany the new flight plan/number. So now AA flight 112 from CDG-MEX has pins of 0100 (cap) 9533 (fo) and 8131 (Lead FA)

    I think that this is the best way to keep everyone one honest.

    • Aviation Industry and Pilot Unions are decadent…….resistant to any change…that might cast doubt-scrutiny on their day-to-day duties.

      Obviously the 1st priority of any Airline/flight crew is to ensure their passengers get to the destination safely. Other high-impact occupations require regular psychological-evaluations….and full access to those Medical Records without the “Patient” Release Form………it is a condition of employment.

      Let’s go back (what 30 years ago) that crazed PSA employee with known physiological issues (and had just been fired) was allowed to board that flight.

      At the time, it was pretty freaky for my family, as my pops would regularly take that same British Plane out of Concord…for immediate trips to the LA area.

      There will always be unbalanced-individuals……..yes many in the Aviation Industry…………yet that same Industry is resistant to taking the blame for failing in “weeding-out” characters that never should have been hired (many of those still flying).

      I can remember taking flights as kid(various Carriers)………and (other kids on board and me) getting to go in the cockpit once at cruising altitude………… A lot of the Pilots then would already be somewhat drunk; and still taking more shots.

      Then, I was dumb and kept my mouth shut……….after all…..when your a kid (caught in the romance ) of being in the cockpit………..any sensibility was lost. Flight attendants must have also known the Pilots were somewhat boozed-up…………..but everyone just let it be.

  8. The recent report on the A330 MRTT recovery is interseting. One pilot in the cockpit. A camera cord gets stuck between his stick and the seats he moves & the aircraft goes in a “commanded” dive at Vne. Under negative g the second pilot re enters the cockpit and standing in the roof reaches out to the stick and gives input. The aircrafts logic determines two different signals and brings the aircraft automatically into level flight. Overriding the captains input.

    Maybe ATC could have an escalation procedure where they can overide cockpit inputs restoring a stable situation. We probably had 3 suicide crashes in the last 2 years. And some catastrophic human (pilot) errors.Pilots hate it, but times are changing and safety comes first. Before traditions, pride and ego’s.

    • The Voyager case shows that the buggers are clearly not concentrating!One pilot gone for 15 minutes doing God knows what,the other chooses to take photos while short handed. I quite often come across fellow drivers on the motorway who are completely engrossed by their phablets,and have to make a conscious effort not to get mine out and do the same.Boredom is a massive issue,give them something else to do and they might become engrossed in it.When I read accident reports,one of the flight crew is frequently missing at the beginning.Is this born out by the statistics?The other question I have is ,what objection could pilots possibly have to cockpit cameras?What are they doing?

    • Yeah, but today’s Generation of Pilot’s (20 years or so to Present) that seem to be doing all the “killing” seem to be wanting to be entitled to all the previous benefits of previous Generation of Mentally Fit Pilots that would not commit Suicide/Murder; with the plane as the Weapon.

      Just as Western Military’s Standards have been lowered to gain entrance, the same can be said for hopeful-aspiring Pilots. PC thing to do now……….. is let anyone become a Commercial Pilot even if they don’t “have the right stuff “>>>> mentally speaking.

      Think about it, prior intentional plane-passenger killings were the result of Hijackings/deranged passenger/s………….now the World’s Carriers are sometimes filled with less-than Pilot material………….that may and do the same things bonafide Highjackers did previously………Twisted scenario.

      Two many Flights, not enough Mentally Qualified Pilots to go around.

      Cameras,multi-coded Cockpit door locks………..wont’ stop the killings…………..only getting “the right stuff” will stop the Pilot induced Tragedies.

      Until Then, more Horrific Pilot induced killings will happen in the Future,regardless of Country/Nationality.

  9. I wrote in an earlier post that I have always been suspicious about the current cockpit door lock logic.

    I completely agrees with Bjørn’s suggestion about always two persons in the cockpit. Probably most of the discussed accidents then would have been avoided. But i still feel the cockpit door logic to be flawed, namely that one of the cockpit ocupants can alone put the cockpit door switch in the locked position denying legal access to the cockpit from people in the cabin. Even with two persons in the cockpit, a rogue pilot probably still can crash the plane, especially if the other person in the cockpit is say a small woman. This is based on the logic that once the switch is put in the “lock” position, then the door can not open even if the switch is put in the “open” position before the required time has lapsed. But maybe the logic allows for opening the door with the switch in the “open” position after the “lock” position but before the required time has lapsed, I am not sure about this.

    But in any case I suggest a change in the logic of the door switch for planes with two persons in the cockpit. The new logic would be that there was two switches, one for either person in the “front seats”, alternatively a third switch by the jump seat. To lock the door it would require the activation of two of the switches simultaneously to the “lock” position. Further the switches should be placed so far apart that one person alone could not activate two of the switches sumultaneously.

    If this was done then a rogue pilot could not lock the door, even if he overpowered or killed the second person in the cockpit. Granted, if it for any reason should happen to be only one person in the cockpit, then this person wouldn’t be able to lock the door permanently in a hijack crisis for example.

    I feel this would be a very good compromise between cockpit intrusion protection and the ability for persons in the cabin to enter the cockpit in a situation where one rogue person in the cockpit tries to disable the other person there and crash the plane.

    • Let’s face it,the cockpit door conundrum is impossible to solve. I had assumed there was a secret unpublicised bypass,apparently not. This might be the best answer.

      • Not impossible. Because this was implemented as a solution to one problem there was no thought given to the other consequences

        Its taken a mind set on of its own, what would we do if we looked at it post all this and designed it for both situations?

        the above suggest by S Norheim is well thought out. Maybe not the best answer but certainly along those lines.

        It needs to be KISS and it needs to be effective.

        Only adder would be that either party should be able to unlock the door and unlock holds for a definite amount of time so it can be re-locked (30 seconds say)

        The hi-jack threat is minimal now, and while there would be cases of the door ops not being what you want most of the time, the odds of it being open and a hi-jacker in position to take advantage of it are nearly zero.

        Like Boeing auto throttle, not thought out to all its ramifications.

  10. I see some concerns regarding an FA not being capable of tackling a rogue pilot. Why not have two FAs in the cockpit while a pilot is out? It’s only going to be for a few minutes.

    • Have the voyager flight control computers been handed their well deserved medals yet?

  11. Maybe another security door down the aisle from the lav. It locks and the cockpit door is locked open. That way there are always two pilots and a FA or two in a secure compartment.

  12. Tough to implement on a single aisle.

    And is it needed or can it be resolved per Bjorn and or the ability to unlock per S. Norheim.

  13. “There’s a simple incentive for pilots experiencing depression or anxiety not to report these feelings — if they do, they risk being grounded. The threat of career disruption or job loss in this elite and competitive field, coupled with the stigma surrounding mental health — especially in hyper-masculine pilot circles — convince many to suffer in silence rather than risk being sidelined, or seen as weak. The result is that a subtle “lie-to-fly” culture persists, and these sociological pressures may well have played a role in this tragedy.”

    • I said more or less the same thing in the previous thread: “…if a pilot seeks help that itself can be a ‘suicidal’ move, for it means the end of his career.” Not only will he be grounded, but he can actually be grounded for good. And even more so in the post Germanwings Flight 9525 era that we are entering now.

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