Germanwings: EU publishes new rules on mental fitness of air crew


Since the 2015 tragedy of Germanwings Flight 9525, the European aviation community has been mobilized to work towards strengthening the continent’s aviation safety. As a result, on July 25, 2018, the Commission of the European Union (EU) published new safety rules – referred to as The Regulation – on air operations, including new provisions to better support the mental fitness of air crew.

The deliberate crash – as it was declared by French investigators, the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses (BEA) – of Germanwings Flight 9225 by co-pilot Andreas Lubitz in March 2015, shocked the aviation world, spurring everyone in the industry to remember that the medical and psychological conditions of flight crews, if not detected, can lead to a fatal outcome.

The tragedy resulted in new rules in the UK, Germany, Canada, Australia and New Zealand among others, requiring two members of flight crew to be in the cockpit at all times. Meanwhile, the EU flagged the mandatory psychological testing in 2016 but the new rules were not published until this week.

The EU Regulation

According to the Official Journal of the EU, The Regulation, which is to be directly applicable in all member states, includes the following safety measures:

  • Support program: all pilots working for European airlines will have access to a support program that will assist and support pilots in recognizing, coping with, and overcoming problems which might negatively affect their ability to safely exercise the privileges of their license.
  • Alcohol testing: As an additional safety barrier, alcohol testing of pilots and cabin crew for all European and foreign airlines who fly into the territories of the European Union, has been added. Alcohol testing is already a well-established practice in some Member States and with this Regulation alcohol testing will now be extended to all EU Member States within the next two years.
  • Psychological assessment: European airlines will perform a psychological assessment of their pilots before the start of employment.

Some of these practices are already well-established in many EU states but it will be extended to all member states within two years.

The EASA response

Commenting on the publication of the new safety measures, the European Aviation Safety Agency’s (EASA) Executive Director, Patrick Ky, said:

“These new European rules take up the proposals EASA made in its swift follow-up of the Germanwings Flight 9525 accident, in consultation with the wider aviation community. With these rules Europe introduces the right tools to safeguard the mental fitness of air crew.”

The EASA went on to clarify that as part of a system-wide approach, the new rules (so-called Air OPS Implementing Rules) complement the proposals the agency issued to the European Commission back in August 2016, on the update of medical requirements for pilots (contained in the so-called Part-MED).

Among the EASA’s 2016 proposals were the following requirements:

  • Strengthening the initial and recurrent medical examination of pilots, by including drugs and alcohol screening, comprehensive mental health assessment, as well as improved follow-up in case of medical history of psychiatric conditions;
  • Increasing the quality of aero-medical examinations, by improving the training, oversight and assessment of aero-medical examiners;
  • Preventing fraud attempts, by requiring aero-medical centers and AMEs to report all incomplete medical assessments to the competent authority.

The Regulation includes a two year transition period to allow airlines and member states to prepare for the new measures and to set up the necessary infrastructure. The Regulation itself will apply from August 14, 2020.