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German Airlines Revise Important Cockpit Rule – Is It a Mistake?

German airline group BDL, which includes Lufthansa and Germanwings, announced this weekend its plans to do away with the policy of keeping no fewer than two people in the cockpit at all times. The policy, which has been in practice at many airlines for years now, was adopted by the carriers after a suicidal pilot locked out his captain during a restroom break and intentionally crashed the plane, killing all onboard.

The mindset behind this change of policy is that opening the cockpit door more times than necessary allows would-be hijackers more “frequent and predictable” opportunities to enter the flight deck and take over. The likelihood of a pilot opting to commit an act like Germanwings pilot Andreas Lubitz did in 2015 is extremely rare – but it could happen. And we do need to be on our toes regarding potential terrorist acts, which are also thankful very rare in-flight. But does this policy change really do more to safeguard air travel?

I brought up this about-face by the German airlines to several pilots I knew as soon as I read about it, and all of them immediately said that they felt uneasy about the change. They, like myself, felt like the amount of time spent allowing a flight attendant in to replace a pilot was so negligible that the benefits outweighed the risks. But some other pilots felt differently, claiming that there was much more unnecessary time now spent with the cockpit door open than there was prior to the implementation of the rule. One author also brought up a valid point – that a malevolent flight attendant could also possibly attempt to incapacitate a pilot during a bathroom break and take over the controls. Perhaps, he feels, safety doesn’t lie in numbers.

The chances of any of this happening again are so remote that it seems barely worth mentioning, but it of course requires careful consideration. However, an issue that does happen a little more frequently, and that I fear may be overlooked here, is that medical issues can strike, incapacitating a pilot in-flight. Just last month an American Airlines pilot died at the controls as the captain landed the plane, and it was only four months prior that a KLM pilot also suffered a cardiac arrest but was thankfully resuscitated. With a flight attendant in the cockpit, emergencies like these could be dealt with immediately rather than the clock ticking down until the co-pilot has finished stretching and using the lavatory.

It’s completely impossible to prepare for all potential scenarios, and history has unfortunately proven them all possible, although thankfully infrequent. But it seems like the short amount of time a pilot takes to swap places with a flight attendant is not enough to warrant scrapping the policy putting two sets of eyes up front. Prioritizing what awful scenario to prepare for over others is, especially in this case, incredibly difficult. We are all anxious to glean as many lessons as we can from the frightening events of recent decades, but this change feels hasty. We can’t expect to prepare for everything, but we ought to take extra precautions where we can afford to.

[Photo: Shutterstock]

Comments are Closed.
diamantaire May 25, 2017

Old habits die hard !! Thank god I stopped flying lh group a long time back. All they care for is profits !!

Gass May 6, 2017

Can someone explain why the airline manufacturers don't simply build in safety features to prevent a plan crashing into a mountain. They can program the systems to warn the pilot to pull up, why not just make the plane pull up. My car brakes if I am going to crash. Technology should be used to solve this problem. There should also be the option to take over control from the ground.

Grog May 5, 2017

Lufthansa's management is brain-dead. Keep the rule of two people in the cockpit at all times!

quicky May 4, 2017

Well why not flying with one pilot at all, should be OK as well??? If a highjacker wants to enter the flight deck he can do it when a pilot goes to toilett anyhow, that is a stupid excuse and shows the comapanies attutude to safety. Very surprising that just Lufthansa group is the one to dump this rule. The two person rule is as well a matter of safety in case of any matter of sudden unconsiousness of a pilot which is unlikely but happens one in a while. Will avoid Lufthansa in the future though I am based close to FRA.

Sydneyberlin May 3, 2017

What do you expect, it's Lufthansa! They just see $$$ lost by having to staff their crew properly for one of them having the time to spend in the cockpit. This entire accident could have been avoided had LH not been such a tight a&%* generously 'overlooking' the mental illness of one of their Germanwings cheapy pilots.