Airlines rush to bring in two-person cockpit rule

Airlines around the world including low-cost carrier easyJet, rushed to implement a new rule that two crew members must be in the cockpit at all times. It follows revelations that the co-pilot of the doomed Germanwings plane deliberately crashed the aircraft.

Airlines rush to bring in two-person cockpit rule
Two people in the cockpit at all times. That will be the new rules for many airlines now. Photo: Mathieu Marquer/Flickr

Airlines and policy makers rushed to mandate two crew members be in the cockpit at all times following revelations that the co-pilot of the doomed Germanwings flight deliberately crashed the plane when left alone at the controls.

British low-cost carrier easyJet was the largest company to announce a change in policy on Thursday after French prosecutors said co-pilot Andreas Lubitz locked out the pilot before slamming the Airbus A320 into a mountain on Tuesday.

Similar announcements in the wake of the French Alps crash that killed all 150 people on board came from the Canadian government, Icelandair and Norwegian Air Shuttle.

Germany's aviation association BDL said it too wanted to introduce a two-person cockpit rule among its members, while Lufthansa said the measure would be discussed at an industry meeting on Friday.

The second person could be a flight attendant if the pilot or co-pilot has to exit the cockpit in flight.

It emerged on Friday that the captain locked out of the cockpit of the doomed Germanwings plane that crashed in the French Alps used an axe to try and force his way back in, German daily Bild said Friday, citing security sources.

This could not be immediately confirmed, but a spokesman for Germanwings confirmed to AFP that an axe was on board the aircraft.

Such a tool is "part of the safety equipment of an A320," the spokesman told Bild.

Thomas Hesthammer, head of flight operations at Norwegian Air Shuttle, Europe's third-largest low-cost carrier, said the Alps disaster was the trigger for his company's change of procedure.

"We have been discussing this for a long time but this episode speeded things up," he said.

Icelandair said it too had been spurred to act by the shock revelations about the final minutes of Germanwings Flight 4U 9525 from Barcelona to Düsseldorf.

Canada also ordered all its airlines to always have two people in the cockpit, in an emergency directive the government said was mandatory and effective immediately.

"If you're carrying passengers, this is going to apply to you," Canada's Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt said. "You have to have two crew members in the flight deck at all times."

Canada's flagship carrier Air Canada, Westjet and charter airline Air Transat had already said they were putting the policy in place in response to the Germanwings crash.

In Europe, any other airlines that follow suit will do so voluntarily because European air safety regulations — unlike those in the United States and now Canada — are currently silent on the subject.

"The European Aviation Safety Agency rules don't require that the pilot be replaced by a crew member when he leaves the cockpit," said an agency spokesman.

Pilots, however, are expected to stay at the controls, except for trips to the bathroom or a break during long-haul flights.

"Nothing prevents a company from putting in place its own procedure that is tougher than the regulations," said Frode Lenning, an official at Norway's civil aviation authority.

No guarantee

American regulators at the Federal Aviation Administration already require a crew member sit in the locked cockpit if one of the plane's pilots needs to go the toilet or take care of another "physiological" need.

Investigators suspect the Germanwings pilot left the flight deck to relieve himself, putting 28-year-old Lubitz in charge.

A two-person cockpit policy is relatively rare in Europe, with easyJet's Irish rival Ryanair, Finland's Finnair and Spanish carrier Iberia among the few who said they already adhered to it.

Carsten Spohr, who heads Germanwings parent company Lufthansa, claimed the policy was not just unusual in Europe. "In the world there are few companies that do that."

Experts point out that even for airlines who impose a strict "rule of two", there are no guarantees against the erratic actions of a crew member causing a tragedy.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks airlines had been particularly focused on the terrorist threat, with many companies adopting systems that lock a cockpit door to prevent attackers from taking control of civilian aircraft.

Lubitz is not believed to have been part of a terrorist plot, German and French authorities said, but the young first officer's motives remain a mystery.

Neighbours and fellow flying club members described him as a "friendly" guy-next-door type who enjoyed jogging with his girlfriend.

The Germanwings crash was the deadliest on the French mainland since 1974 when a Turkish Airlines plane went down, killing 346 people.

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Lubitz sought ‘deadly cocktail of drugs’

Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, who prosecutors allege deliberately crashed Germanwings flight 4U9525 in March, searched for a deadly cocktail of drugs on the internet, prosecutors in Düsseldorf confirmed on Friday.

Lubitz sought 'deadly cocktail of drugs'
Andreas Lubitz saw seven doctors in the month leading up to the crash. Photo: DPA

Lubitz looked into obtaining potassium cyanide, valium and “a deadly cocktail of drugs” business daily Handelsblatt reports.

The 27-year-old also appears to have looked into the possibilities for patient care in the event that a suicide attempt had been unsuccessful.

Until now the Düsseldorf prosecutor had only confirmed that he had looked into “possibilities for suicide.”

According to the investigators Lubitz hadn’t told anybody about his suicidal thoughts. Neither doctors, his employer nor his family knew about his intentions, the prosecutors said on Friday.

France probes manslaughter
French investigators said on Thursday they were expanding their crash probe to see if anyone could be held liable for manslaughter, as it emerged the pilot had seen seven doctors in the month before the disaster.
Lubitz, saw 41 doctors over the course of five years, French prosecutor Brice Robin said in Paris after meeting some 200 of the victims' relatives.

“The French penal code forbids me from opening a judicial enquiry for murder because the perpetrator is dead,” said Robin, who appointed three investigative judges to lead the manslaughter probe.

Grieving relatives were shown three different reconstructions of what had happened in the cockpit on their trip to Paris to seek answers about the doomed flight, according to the head of a disaster support group who attended the meeting.

Investigators say that 27-year-old German co-pilot Andreas Lubitz intentionally downed the plane en route from Barcelona to Duesseldorf on March 24, killing all 150 on board.

Robin said Lubitz, who suffered from “psychosis”, was terrified of losing his sight and consulted 41 different doctors in the past five years, including GPs, psychiatrists and ear, throat and nose specialists.

Several of these doctors who were questioned by German investigators said Lubitz complained he had only 30 percent vision, saw flashes of light and suffered such crippling anxiety he could barely sleep.

Lubitz reportedly said “life has no sense with this loss of vision”.

However the doctors he consulted — including one who booked him off work two days before the ill-fated flight — did not reveal his mental struggles due to doctor-patient privilege.

“How to handle medical privilege and flight security when you have a fragile pilot” will be one of the key questions in the judicial inquiry, said Robin.

Anger over repatriation delay

Stephane Gicquel, the head of the support group, said the “stakes” in the expanded probe were to find out if there had been errors in tracking the mental state of the co-pilot.

“We can clearly see the prosecutor's positioning, to open an enquiry that will pose the question of manslaughter and, very clearly, faults or negligence from Lufthansa in detecting the state of Lubitz's health,” Gicquel said.

Some families, meanwhile, were left outraged when Lufthansa, the parent company of Germanwings, informed them that repatriation would be delayed due to problems with the issuing of death certificates because of spelling errors.

The mayor of the French village of Prads-Haute-Bleone, near the crash site, said there had been slight spelling errors “of foreign-sounding names” on several death certificates.

After a complaint by the families of some schoolchildren killed in the crash, who had already planned funerals, a flight returning their remains went ahead as planned on Wednesday.

However to date the remains of only 44 Germans out of the 150 people killed in the March 24 disaster have been returned home for burial.

A total of 72 Germans were on board the doomed Airbus A320.

Robin said 30 Spanish victims would be repatriated on Monday, and that all remains of the people from 18 different countries would be returned by the end of June.

She said repatriations were also delayed because of differing laws on embalming the victims' bodies in the various countries involved.

Investigators only last month finished identifying the remains of all 150 people on the flight.

Unidentifiable remains would be placed in a “collective tomb” in the town of Vernet not far from the crash site.