Tonight, French prosecutors investigating the downing of Germanwings flight 4U9525 over the Alps, announced that the aircraft containing 150 people was crashed deliberately by the co-pilot, twenty seven year old Andreas Lubitz. It is not thought that his motives were political, so it will not be counted as a act of terrorism.
My heart goes out to those who have lost family members, friends and colleagues, and also those people whose job is to recover the wreckage and bodies. I am sure anybody hearing the news will feel the same.
I am not writing from any viewpoint of expertise on aviation, just as a person who travels a lot in a wide variety of aircraft, all the way from four-person helicopters through to A380 super-jumbos. The truth is that every time I get in an airplane, there is an unspoken contract between myself and the pilots that they want to live & want to see the passengers, myself included delivered safely.
It therefore stands that if the pilot ever feels that they are unable to fulfil that contract, that person should seek immediate help and not fly. I don't know the pilot training and profiling currently entails but I do know that ever time I fly, I am trusting the people up front with my life.
There are obviously grave implications for any pilot who turns around to their bosses and voices such dreams. This is the point where my knowledge fails because I don't know what procedures exist to help staff in mental distress. Are there any? I have no idea. If there isn't, then a pilot confessing to dark fantasies, such as crashing a plane, are instantly out of work. This is a powerful incentive for them to remain secret until they are either overcome or are acted upon, as it appears to be in this tragic case.
What I am asking therefore, is not only should such a service exist for pilots but also that pilots are confident that in turning towards help will not lead to them losing the jobs, which for many is also a vocation. If it were proved that Andreas Lubitz crashed this plane on purpose (and I am sure once the second black box is recovered and the control movements analysed, we will have a definitive answer) then his actions led to a most terrible betrayal of trust. It is as if a doctor decided to murder the entire hospital ward under their care. It seems the young man had lost any good of his intellect.
On my facebook page this evening, a friend of mine said she regretted booking her flight to Turkey now and that a little trust had died tonight with the news. I naturally compared air travel with probabilities of being injured in one's own home or in the street but she is right insofar when a passenger gets on a plane it is a very real act of faith. Faith in the pilots, in the crew, in the maintenance teams, in the management, in the air traffic systems and in the manufacturers. Tens of thousands of people are responsible daily for the lives of millions. All it takes is the action of one to destroy all that faith and undermine all that trust.