Germanwings crash: Pakistani aviation psychologist weighs in on co-pilot's mental state

Published: March 28, 2015

KARACHI: A pilot lives the dream life. He has a high-paying job that comes with a lot of perks. The lure of flying around the world and the aura that seems to surround the person behind the controls of a jet is something one does not want to part ways with – at any cost.

While the debate continues around Germanwings pilot Andreas Lubitz, who is accused of deliberately crashing a jetliner and killing all 150 people on board, a Pakistani aviation psychologist spoke to The Express Tribune about the need to reform the commercial flying business.

“So, a pilot has a dream life and he is very scared about losing it,” says Naushad Anjum, an airline pilot who is also a member of European Association of Aviation Psychology (EAAP).

In the case of Lubitz, that’s exactly what seemed to have happened, he said.

Germanwings said that its pilot hid the fact that he suffered from depression and was seeking help from various doctors. As per present regulations, it is up to the pilot to voluntarily disclose status of mental health.

“Imagine if a pilot is found to be depressed and the doctor recommends a couple of months of rest. Why would the pilot report that? No private airline pays salary while the pilot isn’t flying.”

While vigorous fitness checks are a regular feature for a pilot, psychiatric evaluation remains a weak area, pilots say.

Anjum suggested that perhaps if the airlines ensure job security backed by an insurance policy, pilots would not have to lie about their condition.

He also says that advance Crew Resource Management (CRM) system should be adopted by airlines. CRM is specifically designed to bring efficiency within the cockpit and among other crew members.

“Advance CRM goes beyond communication and identifies weakness in personalities.”

An MSc in psychology from Preston University Islamabad, Anjum will be completing his M Phil in next couple of weeks.

He is also researching the effects of modern life, especially social media, on mental health of pilots.

“Modern trends have overburdened our minds. It has affected our ability to control anger,” he says.

“Everybody seems to be so happy and perfect on Facebook. When someone suffering from personal issues sees all that, he immediately becomes more depressed.”

Cutting use of social media is not the answer, he says. “We don’t need to isolate ourselves. We need self-discipline, and to modify some of our regulatory procedures.”

Another issue that has surfaced after the Germanwings incident is the discretion of pilots to leave the cockpit. American regulations say that whenever a pilot is alone in a cockpit, someone from the cabin crew like a steward has to be present until the pilot returns.

But European and Asian aviation regulations don’t have any such restriction. “In practice we do follow the guideline. But I think we need to put this in paper too,” he says.

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Reader Comments (3)

  • Nasrumminallah
    Mar 28, 2015 - 11:11PM

    Its good to hear from Naushad after a while. I second him for his comments. Aviation technology has reached to a level of maturity after years of quest for perfection in aero-engine performance, air frame and ancillary equipment that leaves little chances of failures during flight. But the pivotal role of pilots (Liveware) in the SHEL Model (Software, Hardware, Environment and Liveware) cannot be overemphasized due to inherent limitations. Although, the biggest controller of hazards at every phase of flight, mishap pilots are instantly at the receiving end after an accident since they are visibly the last failed defense against an accident, concealing the real contribution of the rest of the factors. But the latest investigation techniques and Flight Safety paradigm take full cognizance of all the factors within the organization and it is expected that people responsible for the failure to detect hazards of the kind that brought down Germanwings A320 over French Alps could no longer be absolved of their responsibilities.Recommend

    Mar 29, 2015 - 1:22PM

    Perhaps apart from age this may have been a factor in AirBlue most infamous crash in Margala hills. But the the owner is a Minister who came out with flying colours.While PIA is in loss Minister Abbasi is running profitable business from his ministers office.This is called management Air Blue is being run at government expense.Recommend

  • woody
    Apr 1, 2015 - 9:54PM

    Some pilots make good money and have a “dream job” – but most pilots work for smaller airlines, don’t make great money, and fly the same routes every day. It’s boring, not glamorous, and someone like driving a bus.Recommend

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