The Germanwings D-AIPX Plane Crash: Mitigants and the Aftermath

The plane crashed on 24 March 2015, and investigators, I gather, currently have the mind that the first officer/co-pilot deliberately crashed it—with the absence of the pilot.

To prevent this scenario from repeating itself, the Canadian and New Zealand aviation authorities have recently changed regulations to require that at least two people be on the flight deck at all times during flight for safety reasons. [Wikipedia: Germanwings Flight 9525.] A policy aftermath.

Might a requirement to always have more than two crew members for the flight deck permit the head of the cabin crew as a stop-gap for a temporary absence by a traditional member of the flight crew?

Where there’s a flight engineer in addition to the pilot and copilot, this becomes is a non-issue; only just an additional expense.

Could the crash have been avoided if the pilot wasn’t locked out? It’s a 50-50 probability (for two players). And we’ve been schooled by enough movies to imagine the few things possible on the flight deck. It could’ve gone either way, lending credence to the new regulation.

This particular policy change reflects a shift from ‘innocent until proven guilty’ to ‘guilty if innocence isn’t seen.’ It’s the way with security though: assume reasonable cases for concern, and mitigate them as best as possible. The incident highlighted a now reasonable concern to mitigate.

Would there be broader implications for pilot training, and in-flight security observances and behaviour? Obviously, some authorities have done a process review and implemented recommendations. Take no one for granted—even those you should perhaps ordinarily trust as a matter of ideal.

Other aviation authorities, and ICAO, so far seem to be taking their time. There’s no need to be hasty about making changes to the status quo, because of any systemic effects. Analyse the whole for the part, and not just the part for itself, unless you can prove that the part exists (or could exist) distinctly.

Mitigants might also include toilets for an elongated flight deck or measures to ensure the pilots don’t need to leave the flight deck during flight (with any appropriate exceptions). We could choose to ensure emergency access—and associated procedures for access—to the flight deck from outside. (I assume there is none, for security reasons still.) There might be more stringent flying certification, or pre-flight suitability assessments for flight crews before every flight etc.

Apart from maintaining the status quo, any person oriented mitigant to this newly highlighted threat would be an additional cost to the airlines and/or the pilots. (We also count non-financial costs.)

How feasible are the options? Which is the craziest from a financial perspective? Where safety or security is paramount, money shouldn’t be an object. But then, it always is in business. Hence, a reason for innovation. We’d also want to take more stress off pilots and airlines.

Rather than focus on the person factor only, let’s enhance the technology also. Let’s program the plane to recognise and take evasive action in identified scenarios that lead to crashes, irrespective or pilots’ commands? There are a whole lot of issues to resolve if this route could be permitted for civil aviation. We may also choose to go pilotless (no deck presence) except perhaps on takeoffs and landing ….

Technology suppliers have an opportunity here to make money again while contributing to flight safety; for this incident has served to market a potential need. A technology aftermath.

Asides
A question:
How or why was the pilot locked out of the flight deck. Was he escorted out, or did he have to use the toilet or something. I gather that on short flights, the pilots prepare, and try to ensure they won’t need to use the toilet while flying. Makes sense for more than one reason.

To state the obvious, there’s no intention to trivialize anything of the crash or surrounding circumstances.

Before the crash, I had told an airline ticketing agent that I liked Lufthansa (the owner of Germanwings). And he said something I dismissed and apparently thoroughly filtered. And now? I still like Lufthansa.

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