Published on October 24th, 2015 | by Jim Lee0
Action plan published to ensure safer aviation following the loss of Germanwings Flight 9525
On 20th October, the European Commission took another step towards safer aviation by releasing an Action Plan implementing the recommendations made in July, by the Task-Force led by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), on the accident of Germanwings Flight 9525. This tragedy reminded the international aviation community that the medical and psychological conditions of flight crews, if not detected, can lead to a catastrophic outcome. Shortly after the accident, the European Commissioner for Transport Ms Violeta Bulc requested a Task Force lead by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), to make recommendations which would prevent such a disaster from happening again. The Task-Force has primarily called for better checks on crew members. The Action Plan that has been developed by EASA outlines how the agency now intends to implement these recommendations, in close cooperation with the Commission. The six recommendations are:
- That the 2-persons-in-the-cockpit recommendation is maintained. Its benefits should be evaluated after one year. Operators should introduce appropriate supplemental measures including training for crew to ensure any associated risks are mitigated.
- That all airline pilots should undergo psychological evaluation as part of training or before entering service. The airline shall verify that a satisfactory evaluation has been carried out. The psychological part of the initial and recurrent aeromedical assessment and the related training for aero-medical examiners should be strengthened. EASA will prepare guidance material for this purpose.
- That drugs and alcohol testing be mandated as part of a random programme of testing by the operator and at least in the following cases: initial Class 1 medical assessment or when employed by an airline, post-incident/accident, with due cause, and as part of follow-up after a positive test result.
- The establishment of robust oversight programme over the performance of aero-medical examiners including the practical application of their knowledge. In addition, national authorities should strengthen the psychological and communication aspects of aero-medical examiners training and practice. Networks of aero-medical examiners should be created to foster peer support.
- That national regulations ensure that an appropriate balance is found between patient confidentiality and the protection of public safety. The Task Force recommends the creation of a European aeromedical data repository as a first step to facilitate the sharing of aeromedical information and tackle the issue of pilot non-declaration. EASA will lead the project to deliver the necessary software tool. As things stand, pilots can get specialist check-ups in any member state where the doctor has been certified by EASA. The database is intended to avoid “medical tourism”, or going abroad to get a certificate for a pilot license.
- The implementation of pilot support and reporting systems, linked to the employer Safety Management System within the framework of a non-punitive work environment and without compromising Just Culture principles. Requirements should be adapted to different organisation sizes and maturity levels, and provide provisions that take into account the range of work arrangements and contract types. Prosecutors have found evidence that Andreas Lubitz, the young pilot who barricaded himself inside the cockpit of Flight 9525 and crashed the Germanwings, aircraft, into the Alps in March, had suffered severe depression. They believed he may have feared losing his job, that he had researched suicide methods and concealed his illness from his employer.
Making the announcement, EU Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc said “I am grateful for the comprehensive work carried out by EASA. The safety of European citizens is at the heart of the Commission’s transport policy and today’s Action Plan is another valuable contribution. By providing a clear roadmap for EU action, it will help preventing future accidents or incidents.”
EASA’s Director Patrick Ky added: “The Germanwings tragedy reminded the international aviation community that the medical and psychological conditions of flight crews, if not detected, can lead to a catastrophic outcome. This demonstrates that the regulators have the duty to quickly adapt to a variety of challenges. EASA’s mission is to make air travel ever safer for European Union citizens in Europe and worldwide. With this action plan we are fully committed to fulfil this mission.”
EASA intends to use both existing rules and innovative regulatory solutions for the implementation of the recommendations. Concrete actions will be launched in the areas of air operations, aircrew, Information Technology (IT) and data protection. The next steps will be:
An Aircrew Medical Fitness workshop is to be organised in early December 2015. The workshop will gather European and world-wide experts to discuss the implementation of the recommendations. The results of this workshop will be a draft proposal of concrete actions to implement the recommendations, to be further discussed and approved among all the interested parties: European Commission, EASA, airlines, crews, doctors, etc.
Operational Directives in the area of air operations and aircrew might be published by EASA in the first quarter of 2016 to address specific safety issues and prepare proposals for new rules.
Operational Directives are a new regulatory tool which may be used for the first time on this occasion. They will provide operators and national aviation authorities with indications on how to pro-actively implement the recommendations, and what are the actions required.
New rules such as new acceptable means of compliance (AMC) and guidance material (GM) to existing regulations will be developed as needed before the end of 2016.
While it is important to respecting pilots privacy and EASA recognises this it has strike a balance between patient confidentiality and public safety. In addition, there are different national approaches to data protection, across the community and EASA has said it will leave data protection matters to the executive of the European Commission. The Commission has already launched a legal challenge against Germany, over its pilot license renewal practices, on the grounds that privacy is given too much weight to the detriment of safety. In some countries, such as Britain, doctors are already advised to report any concerns where public safety is at stake.