GermanWings crash: Blame the pilot or blame the industry?

Published: March 28, 2015
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Mourning for Germanwings flight. PHOTO: REUTERS

Morning News: Germanwings Flight 9525 Crashes in French Alps. PHOTO: REUTERS Mourning for Germanwings flight. PHOTO: REUTERS

Since the inception of free electronic media and social media, aviation accidents have become subject of great interest amongst the masses. For Pakistan, it was the Airblue Flight crash which took place in Margalla Hills, Islamabad five years ago. It was the worst aviation disaster in Pakistan aviation history followed by the Bhoja Air crash in 2012, which killed all 127 passengers on board.

The first recorded accident in commercial aviation history was on August 2, 1919, when a Caproni Ca48 type aircraft crashed near Verona, killing all passengers aboard. Since then a number of aviation accidents have taken place, killing hundreds of people on board and on ground as well.

During the late 20th and early 21st century, the world witnessed a revolution in the aviation industry. State-of-the-art birds were introduced primarily focusing on the performance of the aircraft, comfort of the passenger and most importantly, the safety of the entire journey. The aviation industry is ensuring that every minor aspect regarding the safety of their passenger should be taken into consideration.

Despite claims of maintaining a high standard of safety, commercial airlines have been facing numerous incidents in the recent past. Although all these incidents cannot be attributed to technical faults, other reasons are also involved in plane crashes.

In 2014, we had eight major incidents involving commercial airliners out of which seven proved to be fatal accidents. Some of the crashes were the Nepal Airlines Flight 183 which crashed on February 16, 2014, followed by the mysterious case of the MH 370 missing plane. The list grew with the additions of flight MH 17 being shown over Ukranian airspace, killing 298 passengers on board, as well as the Air Algerie crash in the Northern Mali desert. No survivors were found.

Later, a Russian built aircraft crashed in Iran killing 39 out of 48 people on board. This accident can be traced back to malfunction of the engines. Out of the seven accidents in 2014, this was the only one which had a technical error. On December 28, 2014, an Air Asia A320 crashed in the Java Sea on its way to Singapore. This crash is still under investigation.

Three months into 2015 and we have already witnessed three major incidents involving commercial airliners. On February 4, 2015, TransAsia Airways Flight 235 crashed into the Keelung River in Taiwan, killing 42 out of 58 on board. This crash was also the result of a technical issue. On March 5th, a MD-88 type aircraft skidded off the runway at LaGuardia Airport in New York, injuring dozens of passengers on board. The investigation of this accident is under process, though most stated that it was due to bad weather.

The prime incident of 2015 took place on March 24, 2015, when a GermanWings Flight 9525, crashed in Northern France in the French Alps, killing all 150 passengers on board.

Due to this crash, once again, a conspiracy theory has emerged, one which states that this was a deliberate suicidal attempt. Although the investigation is still on-going and a final verdict is yet to be passed, leading international and regional aviation regulatory bodies have taken this incident extremely seriously.

According to an unofficial statement from National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in response to the GermanWings crash, it was stated that as per regulations, no flight crew member is to be left alone in the cockpit during flight. In case one of the crew members leaves the cockpit, one of the other crew members shall assume position in the cockpit to minimise any suicidal risk.

This statement is not only to be followed by the European regional aviation regulatory bodies but also by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) laws, where it provides a standard of strict rules which every pilot of the deck crew has to go through before he is permitted to operate a commercial flight.

Looking at the GermanWings Flight 9525 crash, this controversy has evoked a strong reaction from the masses and is already being reported as a suicide attempt by news agencies, even though the incident is still under investigation.

According to the French prosecutor, the French and German aviation authorities, as well as the spokesperson for Germanwings, the crash was intentionally caused by the co-pilot, a young 27-year-old Andreas Lubitz. They claim that Lubitz was earlier deemed unfit for piloting duty by his doctor due to mental health concerns and was suffering from depression, but he had not disclosed this to his employer.

All of these controversies were even justified by the employer itself. I wonder how he could be a part of a European aviation giant without undergoing a medical check-up before being recruited. Perhaps there is another perspective to the story as well.

As speculations and assumptions continue, one such speculation is that the captain of the flight was locked outside the cockpit and failed to open the door in time, which led the co-pilot to crash the plane into the Alps.

Let’s take a look at the assumption of the captain being locked outside.

The captain gives charge of the plane to Lubitz, he then opens the cockpit door and enters the passenger aisle. The cockpit door closes and locks itself; it can only be opened from the inside or by a code from the outside due to security measures. While the captain is locked outside, there could have been a situation which Lubitz was unable to handle and banked from 45,000 feet at 400 knots. Due to the strong gravitational force, no one was able to reach the cockpit door in time and 9525 crashed.

In my opinion, if this was a case of suicide, I would recommend airlines to opt for stress and mental check-ups on a regular basis and ensure two members of crew on the flight deck to minimise the risk. Another suggestion would be to undergo strict mental and physical check-ups before recruiting new employees. Attention should also be given to training the crew for crisis management on flight.

By taking such measures, we may not be able to eliminate such incidents but we may be able to prevent them.

Jawad Nazir

Jawad Nazir

An idea entrepreneur, a youth activist, a philanthropist, a policy advisor, aviation researcher, a speaker and a community worker from Rawalpindi, Pakistan. A graduate of journalism and political science from the University of Punjab, Lahore, he is currently pursuing an honors degree in brand management from the Foundation University, Islamabad. He tweets as @jawadmnazir (www.twitter.com/jawadmnazir)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.