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Are airlines’ responsible for pilots “going rogue?”

Following the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, U.S.-based airlines implemented a two-pilot policy. The idea of one pilot controlling the plane alone ignored the dangers of possible incapacitation, mental illness, or simply pilots “going rogue.”

Airlines outside of the U.S. chose not to follow suit. Perhaps they didn’t conceive of a co-pilot locking out the pilot who had temporarily left the cockpit. That lack of conception became a harsh reality.

A Tragedy That Could Have Been Avoided

Two years ago, Andreas Lubitz deliberately crashed the Germanwings Flight 9525 he was co-piloting into a mountainside located in a remote area of the French Alps. All 144 passengers and six crewmembers were killed, including the only two Americans on the plane, Yvonne Selke and her daughter Emily.

The tragedy is now the subject of a wrongful death lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia on behalf the husband and son of Yvonne Selke. The defendants include not only Germanwings, but also its parent company, Lufthansa Airlines and United Airlines, the company that originated the flight out of Virginia. The three are part of a global airline alliance that allows the companies to book flights on each other’s planes.

The suit alleges that Germanwings and Lufthansa lacked a policy that mandated at least two flight crew members in the cockpit at all times. The Selke’s attorney claims that the airline industry has long been aware of the dangers of having only one person in the cockpit if a pilot is unable or unwilling to fly the plan safely.

Days after the crash, investigators searched Lubitz’ properties. They found a letter from a doctor declaring him unfit to work, prescription drugs for a psychosomatic illness, web searches on suicide and cockpit doors, and evidence of past treatment for suicidal tendencies.

Prior to the crash, Lubitz visited over 40 doctors because of vision problems. The final crash report speculates that his fear of going blind and losing his pilot’s license resulted in his decision to not only end his life, but also the lives of others.

Going forward, international airlines may implement the two-pilot policy. However, proactive instead of reactive steps could have saved lives and avoided costly legal problems.

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