Le Bourget, France – The French air accident agency, BEA, announced on Sunday its final report regarding the Germanwings tragedy, in which the co-pilot of flight 4525 from Spain to Germany, intentionally crashed the passenger plane killing 144 passengers and six crew members. French authorities asked for new reporting requirements for doctors treating pilots, and new measures to keep pilots from hiding mental health issues.
According to a final report on the tragedy, Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot of flight 4525 from Spain to Germany had been prescribed depressants and been referred to a psychiatric hospital two weeks before the accident but the airline was never notified.
His mental health condition is believed to have been a key determinant in the accident as he might have intentionally crashed the plane. But according to BEA, the crash couldn’t have been prevented because of medical confidentiality.
As a result, the BEA is urging for better regulations for doctors treating pilots, and new measures to keep pilots from hiding mental health issues to prevent further calamities.
The investigators from France’s BEA air accident agency acknowledged that it’s not easy to balance patients’ right to medical privacy and public safety, and said they don’t want to stigmatize people suffering depression.
The report read the process for medical certification of pilots, in particular, self-reporting in a case of decrease in medical fitness between two periodic medical evaluations, did not succeed in preventing the co-pilot, who was experiencing mental disorder with psychotic symptoms, from exercising the privilege of his license.
BEA recommendations report
Initially, the report listed several factors that may have contributed to the failure of self-reporting principle, which includes the fear of losing his ability to fly as a professional pilot, the potential financial consequences generated by the lack of specific insurance covering the risks of loss of income in case of unfitness to fly and the lack of clear guidelines in German regulations on when a threat to public safety outweighs the requirements of medical confidentiality.
The BEA urged for an update the medical confidentiality rules. According to the report, the policy-makers should define clear rules to require health care providers to inform the appropriate authorities when a specific patient’s health is very likely to impact public safety.
BEA asks from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to ensure that European operators to apply support groups to provide a process for pilots and their families to report and discuss personal and mental health issues, with the assurance that information will be kept in confidence in a just-culture work environment. It added that pilots will be supported as well as guided, either way, they will be provided with help in order to ensure flight safety. Pilots would be allowed to return to flying duties, where applicable.
“Pilots welcome recommendations to introduce peer support programs for pilots across the aviation industry. … By encouraging those with mental health problems to seek help, offering them treatment and ensuring they do not suffer financially if they do come forward, we prevent these issues being driven underground.” Said Jim McAuslan, general secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association, acknowledging the report.