May 28, 2024

After Germanwings: more psychological tests for pilots?

Following the recent Germanwings plane crash there have been calls to introduce intrusive psychological examinations for pilots.

With French prosecutors saying that the Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately flew flight 4U9525 into a mountainside, there have been calls to introduce new and potentially ‘intrusive’ psychological testing procedures for pilots.

Former US aviation regulator Ken Quinn has called for more robust background screening and mental checks of new and experienced pilots. This may mean  “more intrusive checks of psychological history” than labour groups have historically accepted.

Psychologist and author Terry Lyles suggested that pilots undergo routine psychological testing after their initial exam.

“We test people here in [the US] for all kinds of things, for just CEO positions and president positions. So someone who has the lives of 149 people behind them, they should be tested every way possible to make sure that they are competent, healthy, sane, alert. All those things should be taken into account, and that’s why we do it here in the U.S.”

Psychological screening programs for prospective pilots vary between airlines. Ironically Lufthansa, Germanwings’ parent company, is widely seen as having one of the best recruitment screening programmes in the industry, carrying out in-depth interviews and psychological testing before candidates can begin its two-year pilot training programme and filtering out more than 90% of initial applicants.

Many experts believe that no degree of psychological screening could prevent situations like the recent Germanwings tragedy.

Hans-Werner Teichmüller, president of the Deutsche Fliegerarztverband, an association of German doctors who examine pilots and flight crew, said that a resourceful pilot could always evade detection. “A pilot who intends to do something like this could be skilful enough to pass as a well-structured person, even if they were in danger of suicide,” he said. “Even with an examination process, you wouldn’t have 100% safety.”

Germanwings psychological tests for pilots
Xavier Symons
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psychological testing