The Aftermath Of Germanwings

Author:Mr Shaun Foster
Profession:Alexander Holburn Beaudin + Lang LLP

On March 24, 2015, the passengers and crew of Germanwings Flight No. 9525 (from Barcelona to Dusseldorf) were the victims of a tragic aviation incident. Shortly after take-off, the pilot left the cockpit. The co-pilot (Mr. Lubitz) locked the cockpit door and initiated a steep descent into the French Alps. Despite attempts by the crew to gain entry to the cockpit and communicate with Mr. Lubitz, the plane crashed, killing everybody on board. The incident sparked international concern, and the incident resulted in the implementation of various safety measures across the globe.

The French Aviation Investigation Authority (the BEA) investigated the accident. The BEA report revealed that Mr. Lubitz suffered from a prior history of depression and psychological disorders. Shortly after commencing flight school in Germany in September 2008, he suspended his training for medical reasons. In 2010, he completed a component of his flight training at the Airline Training Centre Arizona ("ACTA"). Following that training, he returned to Germany to obtain his commercial pilot's licence. Only a few months before the crash, Mr. Lubitz saw a private physician who diagnosed him with a psychosomatic disorder and possible psychosis.

Despite attending various health care providers during his employment, no practitioner informed any aviation authority (or his employer) about Mr. Lubitz' mental state.  Mr. Lubitz also advised no one. The BEA report identified a lack of clear guidelines in German regulations with respect to a physician's obligation to report a pilot's medical issues.

The law in Canada with regard to the reporting of pilot medical conditions is clearer. Section 6.5 of the Aeronautics Act ("Act") requires that any physician who believes on reasonable grounds that a patient is a pilot who has a medical condition that is likely to constitute a hazard to aviation safety, must inform a medical adviser designated by the Minister of Transport forthwith. Section 6.5 also requires that pilots inform each physician they see that they are the holder of a Canadian aviation document (i.e. a pilot's license). The Act explicitly states that no legal, disciplinary, or other proceedings can be brought against a physician for anything done by him or her in compliance with the reporting requirement. Further, section 404.06 of the Canadian Aviation Regulations ("CARs") requires a pilot to "ground" him or herself if he or she suffers from an illness that could impair his...

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