Budget airline gives me pause; depressed co-pilot deadly…

It’s bad enough one has to worry about dangerous flying weather and mechanical malfunctions, and terrorists when flying in an airliner, now we may have to worry whether the person piloting the airplane is depressed.

The unconfirmed news today is that the co-pilot who investigators determined deliberately crashed a jet with 150 aboard (all dead now) into the French Alps had a bout with depression and had taken some time off from his flight training. But he seemed to have gotten better and was rated as fit to fly. He had been among the top in his class.

Well we don’t really know for sure about the depression thing — but that is the news today.

We do know, however, that the pilot was locked out of the cockpit after leaving to — I don’t know, use the restroom?

And how is it that the pilot can be locked out of the cockpit? Even if the other person meant no harm, the other person might become incapacitated.

While I understand the technology is such nowadays that it’s getting where modern jetliners nearly fly themselves with the pilots basically monitoring things, I think maybe safety procedures need to be reviewed.

I for one don’t want a pilotless plane, and I also want someone, and maybe more than one, with much experience at the controls. The co-pilot, who did not have a large amount of flying time, was left in charge.

After so many hijackings and terrorist actions in the sky there was a big deal about securing the cockpit from intrusion. But what if the danger is in the cockpit itself?

The airliner is question was operated by something called “Germanwings”, a “low-cost” or “budget” version of Lufthansa.

I’m not a frequent flyer to say the least — but I have been up there on numerous occasions and plan to be again (maybe). I have never flown Lufthansa, but kind of always wanted to. One reason is that I just like the name. Another is that it is German and I am partly of that heritage and it just seems that anything with the designation of “German” bespeaks quality — I mean the Germans have a reputation in quality, and craftsmanship, and science and technology. But the low-budget (or low-cost) part gives me pause. I don’t feel more secure if I am up there in something that is low-budget.

I’m sure Lufthansa officials are already trying to see if there is not something they can do to improve their quality check and fitness tests for pilots. I think the whole industry should.

Of course it is still early with a lot of unanswered questions. We really don’t know exactly how this happened — it could still be an act of terrorism. But the evidence from the flight recorder and other preliminary info points to a deliberate act by a co-pilot, who managed to either get the captain of the ship out of the cockpit or took advantage of his absence to do the unthinkable.

And it raises the question, when is someone with a history of depression ready to go back to normal work? And if the someone has people’s lives in his or her hands, is the person ever fit for the job? I don’t know.

Of course when we put a stigma on things like depression we in the process discourage treatment.

I’m just glad that I am not a frequent flyer and that I really don’t have to fly.

They say that flying in an airplane is far safer than driving your car. Just tell that to someone in a crashing airliner.

And I hope I don’t seem glib here: the sorrow that has to have engulfed loved ones, including parents of their teenage children who had been to Barcelona, is enough to break my own heart just imagining it.

I guess what I really mean is that we just can’t cut financial corners on airliner safety.


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