The recent news of Germanwings Flight 9525 calls into question the safety of flying and the trust being placed in pilots. It has always been understood that in terms of skill, pilots of any airline are superbly trained and tested to be sure they can handle flying the planes. However, what is more questionable is what measures are being taken to ensure that their mental health will allow them to be safe and successful pilots.
In this case, Carsten Spohr, CEO of Lufthansa (parent company of Germanwings) stated that the co-pilot flying the plane had perfect flight performances, but that the company does not to psychological exams. The co-pilot never indicated he was ill.
What is the explanation for this lack of psychological testing?
One huge problem is how to fairly go about the testing and how accurate said testing is. In the United States pilots are often asked about their stress levels and how they feel during flights when they do their check-ups and physicals. However this means that they are monitoring their own emotional health and expected to answer honestly.
According to this article, "airlines largely rely on self-monitoring when tracking the stress levels and well-being of pilots. Each country's civil aviation authority has its own rules for health screenings, according to Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Alison Duquette." In the United States pilots are expected to disclose any mental disorders or health issues.
Most airlines offer protocols that will allow anonymous reporting of fellow pilots or to encourage self monitoring of pilots by making the punishments minimal if a report is made regarding a mental problem. Comparatively speaking, most airlines and pilots agree that self monitoring works very well. Considering the millions of flights per year and how few planes crashes are directly linked to the emotional health of the pilot or co-pilot.
The biggest criticism is the lack of required screenings. Many feel that requiring a yearly mental health screening, just as physical screens are already mandatory, would be a great way to improve the safety of airlines.
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