After the Germanwings crash in which one of the pilots, reportedly, deliberately flew the plane into the French Alps, the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in India has initiated a process by which psychological tests will be mandatory for all pilots. It’s a notoriously stressful time for people working in the aviation industry. It’s well known that pilots have erratic work and sleep schedules and are under pressure to stick to difficult timelines. If the recommended psychometric tests for pilots go through, it’ll be a global first for the country’s flight regulator, the DGCA.
This move comes right after an alleged scuffle between two pilots on an Air India flight. The Germanwings crash may be an aberration, yet it’s an absolute miracle that something this catastrophic doesn’t happen more often. Everyone, everywhere in the world who has flown in the last couple of weeks has had this horrifying tragedy lurking at the back of their minds. It feels more like a contemporary horror story by Stephen King. The randomness of aircraft accidents, like an engine failure, is somewhat easier to accept, since it’s nobody’s fault. But the idea of a plane plunging to earth for no better reason than the pilot’s mood is off, or he’s “depressed” is so preposterous that it’s prompted an introspective and shocking realisation that we may never be able to accurately predict what humans might do. The odds of death in the air are about one in seven million but that doesn’t include pilot induced mass murder.
Career wise, it was never easy to admit to seeking treatment for depression but it just got a whole lot messier, and harder, to be a pilot. Like you need perfect eyesight to qualify to fly, a mentally balanced and happy temperament will become a prerequisite, forcing those who are experiencing completely normal bouts of lows, to conceal them. Anxiety, anger and dark thoughts are a part of living, irrespective of which career you’re in. Luckily, even when we’re low, most of us don’t have the desire or opportunity to do serious evil. For those responsible for others, the rules will have to be different.
From an ethical point of view, this co-pilot’s actions throw open many questions about the right to a livelihood. Things might have turned out very differently if the psychiatrist treating him didn’t have to abide by a patient’s right to privacy. If, indeed, the pilot underwent a prolonged course of treatment for suicidal tendencies and his parents knew, didn’t they have a moral obligation to discourage him from flying and putting other lives at risk? The minds of those we rely on and have faith in have to be periodically scrutinised not just by the airline but by family and friends as well.