The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) might make it mandatory for airlines to undertake psychometric tests of pilots at the time of recruitment and thereafter at regular intervals to prevent instances like the Germanwings accident from happening in the country.
A senior DGCA official said, “We have firmed up recommendations directing airlines to carry out psychometric tests on all pilots during recruitment and then at frequent intervals to gauge any anomalies in behaviour. The formal report will be submitted soon and orders will be issued accordingly.”
On March 24, 2015, Germanwings’ pilot Andreas Lubitz allegedly locked his colleague out of the cockpit and deliberately slammed the aircraft into the French Alps, killing all 150 people on-board flight 4U9525. Lubitz, it is reported, was suffering from depression.
While aviation safety authorities across the world have since taken steps to implement the ‘two-crew’ rule in cockpits, Indian authorities constituted a committee headed by joint director general Lalit Gupta to delve into the issue of pilots’ mental health and recommend measures to prevent the occurrence of any such accident in the country.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), at present, does not mandate compulsory psychometric tests for cockpit crew. Singapore and South Korea do continuous assessment of their pilots’ mental health every year — as individuals, in groups, as well as with the family’s help — to determine if there is any cause for concern. The DGCA, whose norms currently are in line with those of the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA), do not mandate a regular mental fitness test.
The measure being considered now might stir a debate, since some in the aviation industry believe regular psychological tests make little sense. Industry insiders say there is enough global scientific data to show the mental make-up of a person does not change after he is 18-20 years old. Besides, depression can happen at any time and not get detected by psychometric tests, says a pilot of an Indian carrier. The only way to detect and check any anomaly in behaviour of cockpit crew is possibly through continuous engagement and interaction with supervisors.
Though there are no specified norms for mental fitness checks, most carriers in India including Air India, IndiGo, SpiceJet and GoAir voluntarily undertake a detailed psychometric test of their pilots before induction. Carriers also undertake detailed background checks. The DGCA official added, “Some of these private airlines have given us valuable insights. Their suggestions helped in formulating the report.”
Airlines sometimes assign supervisors for a group of 50-60 pilots, who interact with them frequently to gauge any behavioural changes. Apart from this, reporting systems are in place whereby anyone, from a ground staffer to a crew member, can report an unusual change in a pilot’s behaviour.
Besides, DGCA has made it mandatory for all airlines to have a crew resource management (CRM) session every year. Air India organises refresher courses twice a year. Under one format, cockpit and cabin crew are grouped randomly and made to discuss the sequence of events in a flight and the areas where they could have erred.