The Germanwings 4U 9525 flight’s collision in the French Alps led to the passing of 150 people and has highlighted potential safety changes that airlines might implement. Details emerged that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz may have deliberately caused the incident, which may affect safety procedures for airlines and inspire change in the way in which mental conditions are screened and reported. The reasons behind Mr Lubitz’s actions are yet to be firmly established, although it appears he was receiving treatment from a Dusseldorf hospital for a condition he had.
The Airbus A320 passenger jet was operated by Germanwings, a cheaper subsidiary of Lufthansa. The flight was travelling from Barcelona to Dusseldorf and reached cruising altitude before it undertook an eight minute descent that resulted in the incident. Upon finding the ‘black box’ flight recorders, investigators discovered that the co-pilot might have been in control of the flight following the pilot reportedly leaving the cockpit to use the bathroom. The majority of passengers were German and Spanish although there were also three Britons on board. Other passengers were from the US, the Netherlands, Iran, Denmark, Australia, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela, Japan and Israel although this may include those with dual citizenship. It later transpired that Mr Lubitz had apparently received medical notes excusing him from work due to his condition – including for the day of the incident.
The Germanwings flight was following the current European guidelines for operating a commercial airline that require just a single pilot to be in the cockpit at all times. Additionally, the cockpit is only accessible from the inside to protect the pilots from any incidents. Following the recent events, European airlines appear to be changing their policy so that more than one member of the flight crew must be in the cockpit at all times. Airlines that have changed their policy following the incident include Norwegian Air, Air Canada and Lufthansa itself. In the United Kingdom Monarch, Easy Jet, Virgin Atlantic and Thomas Cook all revealed they too were changing their policies whilst Ryanair and Flybe revealed they already required two pilots to be in the cockpit at all times. The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority revealed that they had contacted all UK operators and encouraged them to review safety procedures.
In the United States the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that two members of the flight crew be in the cockpit at all times. This policy is thought to protect other planes from similar events happening as it provides supervision at all times. The Germanwings events might develop the process of providing pilots with protection, whilst also maintaining a level of supervision to protect those on board.
The legal obligation of the airline to provide compensation to the families is now to begin. This is usually a lengthy process and the amount received might vary significantly even for the people involved. Information such as age, health, familial status and wealth are taken into account to establish how much, on top of a standard amount, the airline is required to provide. Different jurisdictions vary with the amount of compensation family members may receive as some countries take companionship into account (whereas Germany only takes the economic effect into account) for compensation. It is thought, however, that Lufthansa might be open to compensation in order to attempt to protect its reputation.
An immediate impact of this incident is the move to review and change the safety procedures by many airlines and may signal a move towards a policy more like that of the FAA. Events such as these transcend politics and the presence of Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande and Mariano Rajoy at the French Alps shows the unity and determination there is to establish what happened to flight 4U 9525 and whether there are any ways in which to prevent a similar incident happening again.
How might changes to regulation and policy promote increased safety in air travel?