Transcript: Strengthening cockpit security, doorstop, Treasury Place, Melbourne



30 March 2015

Topics: Cockpit security and Agriculture White Paper

Warren Truss: Well since the tragic events of the Germanwings flight in Europe last week, airlines around the world have been examining what measures they need to take to ensure that such an incident is not repeated. The French prosecutor has come to an early conclusion, on the basis of his review of the flight deck recorder, that this aircraft came to grief after the pilot had left the flight deck to go to the toilet and he was locked out by the co-pilot, who subsequently redirected the aircraft so that it collided with the terrain with the loss of everyone on board.

This is obviously a terrible incident and we feel very much for the families and friends of those who were lost. Australian airlines have also been examining what measures they need to take in the light of this incident. There is no law in Australia that requires there to be two people on the flight deck at all times; one or two of the smaller airlines in Australia have such a policy, but it is not included in the operations manuals of most of our major airlines. The Government has been in discussion with the airlines over the last couple of days and there has been an agreement that airlines in Australia will move immediately to adjust their flight operation procedures to ensure that there are always two people on the flight deck. This will mean that one of the flight attendants would come and sit in the cockpit if one of the pilots needed to leave the flight deck for any reason.

This new arrangement will apply to all aircraft with essentially two or more flight attendants, in other words 50 or more passengers. It would apply to the larger propeller-driven aircraft and all of the jet aircraft operating under Australian air certificates. This measure of itself, of course, is only a part of a regime that is necessary to ensure the safe operation of our aircraft. Australian pilots are subject to annual medical reviews and that includes a psychiatric assessment. If at any time there are concerns about the mental health of any pilot or co-pilot there are procedures in place to ensure that there is a medical intervention and those people are not placed in command of aircraft.

This has been a measure that is taken very seriously by our airlines. They take the medical condition and health of their pilots very seriously indeed and take the measures on a regular basis to ensure that those in command of aircraft, having the responsibility for the secure passage of their passengers, are indeed fit to fly at all times.

This is a new measure. The airlines will be acting immediately to implement this change, and we'd expect to see this policy in place within hours on our major airlines.

Question: Mr Truss does it mean that someone who was trying to get into the cockpit would have more time to get into the cockpit if another person is also going in?

Warren Truss: Well there are procedures that will be in place that manage the exit and entry of the cockpit, and those measures are designed to make it difficult for any other person to enter at the time that there is somebody coming in and out of the cockpit. Those measures are in place now. Again, different airlines have different operating procedures; however, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority will in the future be examining this element of the operations of aircraft very seriously and ensure that the plans that are in place, that the methodology used by the various airlines, is the safest possible.

Question: It seems that there was a lot that Germanwings didn't know about the mental health of the co-pilot; how can you be sure that Australia's checks and balances are better?

Warren Truss: Well we do have regular mental checks. There are procedures that the airlines have which rely on the observations of pilots, and anyone demonstrating any kind of erratic behaviour or concerns about their mental health are immediately assessed to ensure that they are safe to operate the aircraft. Now, we also have certain mental conditions which preclude people from being a pilot.

There is a need to balance the fact that people with proper treatment can recover from mental illness and be able to undertake normal careers with the critical priority of ensuring that aircraft are always safe. So this is a challenging issue for airlines and, indeed, for that matter for other employers, to be fair to their employees who have mental health issues. But at the same time ensuring that those mental health issues do not, in fact, put at risk the lives of other Australians. So we have measures in place, they have been successful to date, and this will be a further measure now to provide an additional level of protection to ensure that if there are issues in the cockpit that there are some ways to deal with them.

Question: When you were in opposition the Coalition opposed a move to make sure that only authorised personnel were in the cockpit. It was the Coalition and the Greens who defeated that. Why have you changed your mind?

Warren Truss: Well there were concerns at that time about the particular measure that was coming forward, was that it provided a strict liability offence if the door for any reason became ajar. So, in other words, the pilot was going to be held legally liable even if he couldn't possibly have known that the door was slightly ajar. We just felt that that was poorly-written legislation, that it was unduly oppressive, and put penalties on pilots for circumstances over which they may have had no control. Now, this is a measure which doesn't impose penalties, it imposes good practice to try and ensure that the risks are reduced.

Question: Do you anticipate there might be other changes to enhance security and safety on aeroplanes?

Warren Truss: Well, we'll always continue to monitor these issues, and we'll be monitoring this new initiative as well to make sure that it is appropriate or doesn't, for that matter, create new risks that have to be addressed in other ways. So there is a constant review of aviation safety practices occurring and airlines around the world learn from incidents and hope to do better to ensure that these kinds of issues are not repeated.

There are now quite a number of cases, perhaps more than a dozen, over the last 30 or 40 years which are thought to be aircraft crashes resulting from pilot suicide. Now, it's very, very difficult to intervene in all of these circumstances because they are different in every case, but we certainly need to be sure that we're taking every possible step to make sure there isn't an incident of this nature in Australia, and that global aviation is as safe as possible.

Question: On another topic, are you worried Barnaby Joyce's agriculture white paper has expensive and crackpot ideas?

Warren Truss: Well, we'll make sure that the white paper does not have crackpot ideas; that it has ideas that are able to be implemented and will make a real difference for agriculture. Of course, new measures cost money and our commitment to the agriculture white paper is to make a real difference. So there will be costs associated with some of the measures and that's something we have to budget for.