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Lufthansa mulls medical spot checks for pilots

May 22, 2015

The head of Lufthansa has raised the possibility of introducing medical spot checks for its pilots. This comes after a Germanwings pilot with a history of mental illness apparently deliberately crashed a plane.

Lufthansa Jahresbilanz Carsten Spohr CEO
Image: Reuters/R. Orlowski

In an interview published in this Friday's edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper, Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said he believed that introducing unannounced medical checks could be one way of preventing a pilot with a mental health issue from getting into the cockpit.

Spohr said that "unannounced checks" could determine whether pilots were regularly taking anti-depressives, which could indicate potential mental illness.

He said the surprise nature of such tests would be similar to those that are common practice in many professional sports. But Spohr stressed that the airline would have to carefully consider "under which conditions and in what exceptional circumstances doctors might have to be exempted from medical confidentiality obligations."

Task Force on Flight Safety

Later, though, a Lufthansa spokesperson said that while the airline thought conducting such spot checks could be a good idea, it was not considering implementing such a regime on its own. The spokesperson told the DPA news agency that it should be left up to a government agency to conduct such testing and that the idea needed to be discussed by the national Task Force on Flight Safety, set up by German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt following the Germanwings crash.

Germanwings / Absturz / Wrackteil
Final reports are pending, but Flight 4U 9525's crash appears to have been initiated by the co-pilotImage: picture-alliance/dpa

A spokesman for the trade union that represents Lufthansa and Germanwings pilots, Vereinigung Cockpit (VC), said it welcomed the idea of putting the suggestion to the task force.

"That's where it belongs, and nowhere else," the spokesman said. He also noted, though, that it was still too early to draw conclusions from the crash.

"We first need to wait for the final report," he said.

Deadly Germanwings crash

Germanwings flight 4U 9525, on the way from Barcelona to Düsseldorf, crashed into the French Alps on March 24, killing all 150 people on board.

Investigators looking into the cause of the crash believe that the plane's co-pilot, 27-year-old Andreas Lubitz, who had a history of depression, likely deliberately steered the Airbus A320 into a mountainside, after having locked the pilot out of the cockpit. Investigators who searched Lubitz's flat found sick notes indicating that he should not have been flying on the day of the crash.

Germanwings is a wholly owned subsidiary of Lufthansa.

pfd/msh (dpa, AFP)