DUSSELDORF, Germany (Christian Examiner) – After initially claiming it had no knowledge that Andreas Lubitz was diagnosed with depression, Lufthansa officials now have revealed the airline knew the co-pilot, who deliberately crashed Germanwings Flight 9525 killing himself and 149 others, suffered from this mental illness as far back as six years ago.
Lufthansa released a statement yesterday that in 2009 Lubitz had informed officials at its flight training school about a "previous episode of severe depression."
Previously, Carsten Spohr, CEO of the German airline, said Lubitz had a lengthy interruption of his pilot training program in 2008, but claimed he did not know the reason for the break. He offered that it could have been medical, but added that privacy rules kept him from knowing. Still, he made the point of emphasizing Lubitz had gone through "psychological tests with flying colors."
"There was never any doubt over his competence or skills," Spohr said six days ago, according to NPR.
But that was before police searched Lubitz's apartment and found doctors' notes restricting him from flying, and before Lufthansa discovered the email from Lubitz about his extended absence during flight school.
WHY NO MENTAL HEALTH MONITORING?
The issue of who knew what and when raises critical questions about European Aviation Safety Agency rules which regulate medical fitness for its 32 member nations. EASA is the European Union's equivalent of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.
EASA regulations require annual physicals by specially designated aero-medical examiners for pilots 18-39 years old and state these officials must report any disqualifying condition to the licensing authority "the same day," but does not require notification of the pilot's employer.
In between these mandatory checkups, pilots are on the honor system to report any condition that might impair their ability to fly, and are only required to consult a qualified AME about fitness to fly if they "have been suffering from any illness involving incapacity to function as a member of the flight crew for a period of at least 21 days."
Moreover, EASA guidelines state that a "psychotic disorder" and a "mood disorder" are disqualifying, but allow pilots to regain certification if the psychotic condition is determined to be transient and "will not recur" and "depending on the characteristics and gravity of the mood disorder." However, there are no procedures for monitoring a pilot's condition to ensure there is no relapse in between annual doctor examinations.
Again, the system's integrity is built on the honor system of pilots self-reporting any impairment to their ability to fly.
The New York Times reported German investigators also indicated Lubitz had seen doctors about his vision.
They said documents in the co-pilot's home revealed he feared losing his dream job because of physical and mental conditions.
Meanwhile, Dusseldorf prosecutors released a statement March 30 that Lubitz had been treated by psychotherapists "over a long period of time" before he became a pilot, according to NPR.
Christoph Kumpa, a spokesman for the prosecutors' office said Lubitz was "documented as being suicidal at that time."