The only good thing that stands out in the interim accident report into the Germanwings crash is that the French investigators do not name the miserable wretch who slaughtered the 149 people on board  the A320 he flew at high speed into the base of a mountain in southern France on March 24.

It should be made clear that International Civil Aviation Organization compliant accident reports do not name pilots by name anyhow, but by continuing with that protocol, the BEA, the French air safety investigator, is doing its part in denying the suicidal pilot the notoriety he craved.

Anyhow, the substantive new disclosure in the report is that the pilot quietly practised entering an altitude of 100 feet in the jet’s autopilot settings on the day of the disaster as it was flying from Dusseldorf to Barcelona before its deadly return flight along that route.

Those changes to the autopilot were very brief and made while the captain was out of the cockpit. On the return flight, the first officer locked the captain out during the fatal descent, making a nonsense of the insistence in some quarters that such actions were impossible.

The immediate consequence of the Germanwings crash is that most airlines, including the major Australian carriers, now require two people, one of whom can be a cabin attendant, to be in the cockpit at all times to ensure that one pilot isn’t left alone at any stage of the flight.

But paranoia is now on the loose in relation to pilot mental health issues, ranging from the remote possibility that two suicidal pilots might find themselves operating the same flight to misunderstandings about what the cabin attendant is going to do, which is not to fly the aircraft, but ensure that the door is opened when a pilot returns from a toilet break.

(Some MH370 scenarios involve suicidal actions by one of its two pilots, or maybe even both.)

Mental health issues do not start and end with aircraft pilots. Any number of plot lines can be conjured up involving trains, buses, cranes, ships, and maybe even those in control of city-wide traffic signal co-ordination. We might even throw in those who control missile silos, each containing rockets with nuclear warheads capable of burning whole cities, and probably setting the world on fire in the ensuing nuclear “exchange”.

How long it takes for rational, consistent and informed policies to be applied to workplace as well as family mental health issues is really the question.

On the topic of names, Lufthansa will phase out the Germanwings brand before the end of the year, including it within its other low-fare branding of Eurowings, a wholly owned regional branch of Lufthansa based in Dusseldorf.

Peter Fray

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