Every pilot in Europe – including Andreas Lubitz, the man who prosecutors believe “intentionally” crashed a Germanwings flight into the French Alps, killing 150 people – needs a valid medical certificate to fly.
This process is overseen by the European Aviation Safety Agency, and pilots are regularly re-checked (every six months if they are over 40 and annually if they are younger) by a specially qualified aeromedical examiner. Part of that evaluation will be psychiatric.
That means Lubitz, 28, would definitely have been evaluated in the year before the crash. However these checks are separate from internal procedures within airlines, which may explain why Carsten Spohr, the CEO of Germanwings’ parent company Lufthansa, told reporters on Thursday that Lubitz had not undergone psychological tests since training.
Dr Rob Hunter, head of Flight Safety at the British Airline Pilots’ Association tells i100.co.uk medical tests on pilots are “rigorous”. Pilots are also legally required to declare if they have had any psychological problems or illness. That doesn't mean there is a blanket ban on people with a history of mental illness becoming pilots or flying - it is up to the judgement of the doctor performing the assessment.
"Pilots also undergo simulator testing every 6-12 months of challenging, high-pressure situations under demanding examination conditions, which can highlight any areas of mental health concern," he added.
Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has specific guidance for doctors examining pilots, which they shared with i100.co.uk. For psychiatric assessments, they recommend doctors should “make a general enquiry about mental health which may include mood, sleep and alcohol use”.
Doctors are told to look at applicants’ appearance, speech, mood, thinking, perception, cognition and insight as well as looking out for signs of drug or alcohol abuse.
"All UK airline pilots undergo extensive and regular medical assessments to determine their fitness to hold a licence,” a spokesperson for the CAA told i100.co.uk. “As part of this, aeromedical examiners are required to assess a commercial pilot's mental health at each medical examination which, for an airline pilot flying with at least one other pilot, is undertaken annually.”