Taking a Look at Commercial Airborne Safety During National Suicide Prevention Month

By MR. MATT LIPTAK, Staff Writer

In the spring of 2015, Andreas Lubitz, the copilot of Germanwings Flight 9525, flew into the side of a mountain in the French Alps. Evidence suggests that Lubitz planned the act when he locked the commanding pilot out of the cockpit after the other man had gone for a bathroom break. In addition to himself, Lubitz killed 149 other people from 12 countries.

Carsten Spohr, the Chief Executive of Lufthansa in 2015 and a former A320 pilot, seemed to doubt flight 9525 should be considered an act of suicide alone.

“I am not a legal expert,” he said, adding, “If a person takes 149 other people to their deaths with him, there is another word than suicide.”

September is National Suicide Awareness Month. We are looking back at the safeguards that were implemented to ensure a crash like Flight 9525 does not happen again.

To find out what could be done, investigators examined what actually happened on that fateful flight. Lubitz waited until the commanding pilot had left the cockpit and he was completely alone before locking the cockpit door.

When he got back to the cockpit, the commanding pilot tried desperately to open the door, apparently even using a crowbar at one point. The door was designed to be tamper-proof, however, because making secure cockpits a priority had been a consequence of the 9/11 hijackings in 2001.

Although an emergency code is available to allow entry into the cockpit, it can be disengaged by a determined person inside the cockpit. An obvious answer to this challenge is to require two airline employees to be in the cockpit at all times. This regulation is something the United States had already instituted at the time of the crash, but Europe had not. After the crash, however, several European airlines began instituting the measure independent of the European Aviation Safety Agency’s requirements. Those airlines included EasyJet, Ryanair, and Lufthansa.