Transcript: ABC Radio with Laura Tchilinguirian

Interview

WTC006/2015

27 March 2015

Topics: Response to Germanwings flight 4U9525

Laura Tchilinguirian: Aviation safety agencies in Australia have begun reviewing cockpit safety and security measures in the aftermath of the Germanwings crash in France. It's now believed the co-pilot Andreas Lubitz locked himself in the cock-pit when the pilot went to the bathroom before deliberately crashing the plane into the French Alps. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks cockpit doors have become largely impregnable, which is good in the event of an attempted terrorist incident but proved deadly in this case. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development Warren Truss spoke to me a short time ago about the Australian response.

Warren Truss: The European investigator's report that this incident may have been the result of the deliberate action of the co-pilot while he was alone on the flight deck have led investigators and safety authorities around the world to examine their regulations, as to whether there's more we can do to prevent an event like this occurring again.

In Australia we have a wonderful safety record in aviation and we want to keep it that way. In this country pilots have to undergo regular health examinations, including mental health testing, to ensure that they are fit to fly. Our airlines have flight management programs which are designed to ensure the safety of all flights and they have systems in place to try and identify pilots who, for mental health or other reasons, might not be fit to be in command of an aircraft. So we have systems in place, airlines have plans which have so far delivered us a completely clean bill of health in this regard, and we want to make sure it stays that way.

Laura Tchilinguirian: So are you confident that changes aren't needed in the way that our airlines run?

Warren Truss: Well, we need to examine whether our rules are adequate to respond to a circumstance like as occurred in Europe. We believe that we have measures in place, airlines have responsible approach towards their duty of care towards their passengers, and take that responsibility very seriously, but some countries now are moving to change their laws, in particular to have a requirement that there must be two people on the flight deck at all times. And whilst that is a fairly common practice amongst airlines, in this country that is not a part of our rules.

Laura Tchilinguirian: Is a strengthening of cockpit security part of the problem? The reason no one could back in to stop the co-pilot in this case?

Warren Truss: Well, of course, it's only a few years ago that we introduced as a matter of law, that aircrafts had to have these hardened cockpit doors. That was an attempt to keep hijackers out of the area where the pilot should be able to undertake their responsibilities in command of the aircraft. So they were put there deliberately to stop people from being able to get onto the flight deck. Now we have a situation where it may have prevented somebody who should have been on the flight deck, from being able to get there. Now, the flight decks, they are equipped in a way that people who are able or need to be in the cockpit can get there, obviously with the consent of those who are already there, and that seems to have broken down in this instance. So what we need to look at is whether it's appropriate to put in place rules which require there to be two people in the cock-pit. I know it's common practice amongst airlines to undertake this kind of precaution, but we don't actually in this country have a regulation which requires it.

Laura Tchilinguirian: So, can you just expand on us, what sort of testing or procedures are presently in place to ensure pilots are mentally sound and able to do their job.

Warren Truss: Well, airline pilots are psychologically tested as a part of their recruitment process. They undergo at least annual medical checks, including mental health checks under- and that's a requirement of the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. The airlines themselves have procedures in place that help them to identify somebody who might be under stress and therefore perhaps temporarily are unable to or unsuitable to be in command of an aircraft. Now those procedures seems to have worked well for us in this country, in ensuring that the people who are in command of aircraft are mentally and physically able to do the job. But occasionally people have to leave the flight deck. Now would it be safer if say a flight attendant came and sat in the seat that the pilot or the co-pilot normally occupied, that's something we'd need to examine, bear in mind that the flight attendants don't have to go through the same mental health checks as pilots, and so we need to make sure that if we create a new rule we don't in fact expose ourselves to a different risk.

Laura Tchilinguirian: This isn't the first time a pilot has taken his own life on a flight. It's been reported that seven pilots have deliberately crashed commercial planes in the past 20 years. What is it about this incident that's actually prompting questions about cock-pit entry and exit procedures?

Warren Truss: Well, I think every time that there is an accident, whether it be deliberate or completely accidental, we have procedures to examine why the accident occurred and whether we need to do things to make sure it doesn't happen again. And so what's happening in relation to this incident is, I guess, routine and required practice under international air transport law. We are dealing with this issue, I guess, so promptly because there was such an immediate declaration by the European inspectors that they felt this crash may have been the result of the deliberate actions of the co-pilot. I think that has shocked the world and particularly would be appalling news for the families of those who've lost loved ones from the accident. So, I suppose we shouldn't over-react but this is an appalling state of affairs if the reports end up to be confirmed and therefore we want to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Laura Tchilinguirian: Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, Warren Truss, speaking with me a little earlier.