Germanwings Report: Airlines Should Track Pilots' Mental Health

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Officials at the Germanwings airline couldn't have done anything to prevent last year's fatal crash, according to the final report (PDF) issued yesterday, because they were not informed by anyone — "neither the co-pilot himself, nor by anybody else, such as a physician, a colleague, or family member" — that Andreas Lubitz was suffering from mental-health problems at the time of the flight. "In addition, the mental state of the co-pilot did not generate any concerns reported by the pilots who flew with him," according to the report. In the four months leading up to the crash, at least six doctors saw Lubitz for his mental-health problems, but none of them informed the airline. Changes should be made to patient confidentiality rules to ensure that authorities are informed when public safety is at risk, according to the analysis by France's safety bureau, Bureau d'Enquetes et d'Analyses.

Also, aviation authorities need to do a better job of monitoring pilots with psychological problems and be clear about follow-up requirements, investigators said. The report also recommended that airlines should mitigate the risks taken by pilots who self-report disabling problems, by offering loss-of-income insurance. EASA also should routinely analyze all reports of in-flight pilot incapacitation and continuously re-evaluate its medical assessment criteria, the report recommended. The investigators also said EASA should ensure that airline operators provide peer-support groups to pilots and their families, where personal and mental-health issues can be discussed with an assurance of confidentiality, to help ensure that pilots will get help when they need it.

Investigators also found that after Lubitz was treated for a depressive episode in 2009, a note citing a special conditions/restrictions waiver was added to his medical certificate. However, no follow-up or specific assessment was required for subsequent medical checks. The certificate was revalidated or renewed annually from 2010 to 2014, but no psychologist or psychiatrist was involved in that process. Lubitz, the first officer on Germanwings Flight 9525 on March 24, 2015, locked his captain out of the cockpit and deliberately flew the Airbus A320 into a mountainside, killing all 150 people on board.