According to French prosecutors, an investigation into the recent Germanwings crash has determined that the co-pilot of the plane locked the pilot out of the cockpit and then deliberately slammed the plane into the French Alps. Cockpit voice recordings have been recovered and were used in the analysis of this determination. Understandably, air travelers worldwide are asking how this co-pilot could have possibly been deemed fit to fly.
In the wake of the fatal crash, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has released information about how it seeks to ensure cockpit safety on domestic airlines. Obviously, airlines based in countries outside the U.S. have their own rules and regulations governing pilot mental health screenings and cockpit safety. But understanding what the U.S. does to ensure cockpit safety domestically provides insight into somewhat standardized procedures globally.
Although some of the FAA’s guidance is reassuring, other regulations released by the FAA are suspect. For example, it is up to airlines based in the U.S. to craft rules which apply to co-pilots when co-pilots leave the cockpit. The FAA must ultimately approve these regulations, but the fact that these rules differ across domestic airlines is not reassuring.
In addition, U.S. pilots must receive a first class medical certificate and must have this certificate renewed either every six months or every year depending on the pilot’s age. However, it does not seem that all pilots are subjected to strict psychological testing. In the wake of the Germanwings crash, this rule could be subjected to greater scrutiny.
Source: The Guardian, “Germanwings crash: Live updates,” March 26, 2015