New Delhi: Pilots of Indian air carriers may now be subjected to mid-term psychometric tests to ensure that they are mentally fit to fly, following the deliberate crashing of German airliner by the co-pilot last week.
Nine commercial airlines in India employ well over 3,000 pilots who are subjected to such tests at the point of induction but there are no subsequent appraisals of their mental state. They, however, undergo physical fitness tests every six months.
The government is mulling “mid-term” psychometric tests in the backdrop of the action of Andreas Lubitz, co-pilot of a Germanwings flight last week who crashed the Airbus A320 plane into the French Alps killing himself and 149 others.
Reports thereafter have said that 27-year-old Lubitz was suffering from depression but had hidden this from the airline which is a subsidiary of Lufthansa.
Union Minister of State for Civil Aviation Mahesh Sharma told PTI here today that psychometric tests should be carried out on pilots in India from time to time.
“It's an important issue. I think this is a must. We should carry out such tests (psychometric) from time to time. We are going to discuss the issue soon,” Sharma said.
The Ministry would hold consultations with the aviation regulator DGCA soon to prepare fresh rules keeping in mind the crash of the German airliner, he said.
At present, pilots undergo six-monthly regular medical check-up which includes complete eye examination, Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT), ECG, audiometry, lipid profile. Besides this, the pilots have to undergo complete body check-up every two years which includes ultrasound of all vital organs including kidney and liver and Treadmill test.
National carrier Air India has made it mandatory for all its pilots to undergo a psychometric tests at the time of induction whereas it was made mandatory for cabin crew after the Mangalore crash in May 2010.
The Germanwings crash also triggered calls within India for evaluation of mental faculties of pilots of carriers in the country.
Dr Rama Manna, senior Counsellor at Kolkata-based Indian Institute of Psychometry (IIP), said psychometry tests should be made mandatory as it helps in ascertaining “concentration level of a candidate, reaction to any situation and sense of responsibility”.
She also favoured having a repeat of such tests if a person especially pilot or cabin crew in going for mental stress or has had a tragedy on personal front.
ICPA office bearer Amit Tyagi said there was no policy from the DGCA on carrying out a psychometric test on pilots and “we will take up the matter in the forthcoming Annual General Meeting of the pilot body.”
Tyagi said there was a need for re-formatting the working hours also known as Flight Duty Time Limitation(FDTL) in aviation parlance of the pilots. “A pilot in the cockpit should be stress free,” he said.
The ICPA may also suggest carrying out a psychometric test at the basic level when a student aspires to take a Commercial Pilot License (CPL).
“You see, its not only about a pilot handling bigger aircraft like Airbus or Boeing. Even a two-seater plane can also cause a lot of damage if it crashes. So such a test should be mandatory at the basic level,” Tyagi said.
The IIP recently conducted a psychometric test on candidates aspiring to become co-pilots and cabin crew in Air India. However, the results showed that majority of them could not pass it.
On flight deck procedures, India follows the guidelines of US Aviation regulator and had already announced a “cockpit policy” in 2010 under which if one of the crew members had to leave the cockpit during the non-critical phases of flight, the cabin crew is required to be inside the cockpit and occupy the observer seat.
Civil aviation authorities have reiterated that in case one pilot leaves the flight deck, cabin crew shall be in the flight deck and will occupy one of the observer seats. The cabin crew in the flight deck will remain vigilant in case of subtle incapacitation of the flight deck crew or any other situation that requires assistance.
The crash of the Germanwings Flight 9525 last Tuesday has raised questions whether airlines all over the world are doing enought to detect pilots who are mentally unfit to fly.
European investigators are focusing on the psychological state of Lubitz who is believed to have locked his Captain out after the senior officer left the flight deck.