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What We Can Do Starting Right Now to Prevent More Germanwings Plane Disasters

AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani

Zoe Romanowsky - published on 03/26/15 - updated on 06/08/17

Flying expert says there are steps can be taken immediately

Robert Goyer, editor-in-chief of Flying magazine, says in Time that we need to act immediately to prevent the tragedy of Germanwings 9525 from happening again. 

While it is rare for pilots to hijack their own planes for suicide-murder or other nefarious purposes, it does happen. Goyer recalls a recent incidient in February 2014 when an Ethiopian airlines pilot locked his co-pilot out of the cockpit when he went to the restroom. The flight, which originated in Addis Ababa and was en route to Rome, was low on fuel by the time the pilot safely landed it in Geneva, where the highjacker sought political asylum. It was a terrifying ordeal for all the passengers on the plane, including the co-pilot and flight attendants.

Goyer was against the regulators’ decision to mandate secure cockpits after 9/11. "I feared that it would allow pilots to more easily take over flights and use the airplane to kill all aboard, as famously happened with EgyptAir Flight 990 from New York to Cairo in 1999."

Since 9/11, no successful breach of an airline cockpit has been made, but now we have to figure out how to prevent pilots themselves from taking over airplanes. Goyer has three recommendations, the first which has already started to be employed by some major airlines: 

First, two crewmembers should be required to be in the cockpit at all times, which means that if a pilot or co-pilot steps out of the cockpit, a flight attendant has to step inside. Not a perfect solution, says Goyer, but a good place to start.

Second, Goyer believes psychological screening of pilots "to try to find ones with sociopathic tendencies" should  be required. This kind of thing doesn’t always work, but better screening for mental health issues may help. 

Lastly, Goyer thinks we should support the development of flight computer systems that can help prevent pilots from doing something nonsensical, such as programming a descent that would crash the plane. 

"Can we lock a pilot out of the ability to do damage to an airplane? Probably not entirely," says Goyer, "But we can go a long way toward that goal. It would cost money—but it would go a long way toward ending these horrifying mass killings by airliner." 

Mental Health
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