Transcript: 6PR Drive with Adam Shand

Interview

WTC009/2015

30 March 2015

Topic: Cockpit security

Adam Shand: Now in the wake of the Germanwings plane crash in which it seems that the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, locked out the pilot and then crashed the plane into steep mountains in the Southern Alps, we're going to have a new regulation here in Australia that Australian airlines must have two crew members in the cockpit at all times under a deal struck with the industry. And I'm joined now by Warren Truss, who is the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development and he's also the Deputy Prime Minister. Good afternoon, Warren.

Warren Truss: Good afternoon.

Adam Shand: You've decided to enact this new regulation in the wake of the plane crash. Were there other possibilities considered as well, or was this the only one?

Warren Truss: Well, this was an immediate response. Some countries have already acted in this regard. Australian airlines will immediately update their standard operating procedures to require that there be two people on the flight deck at all times. This can be implemented really within hours and the airlines have been very co-operative in coming to this position. I think it's important that we review all of the information that comes from this Germanwings flight disaster and it may be that we have to look at other things in due course, but this is something we could do immediately that could make a difference and, therefore, it should be done.

Adam Shand: Because the root of this problem—Germanwings—would seem to be a pilot who was hiding his mental health issues or other health issues from his employer. And do you think that there might be more focus in the future on the way that pilots are vetted, and to give them an incentive to actually share the problems they have?

Warren Truss: Well, I think that is an important issue, but it's one that we have already addressed in Australia. Every pilot requires an annual medical examination, but that also includes a mental health examination. Our airlines regard mental health issues as critical in determining the fitness of a pilot to be in command of an aircraft. And they have procedures in place also to try and identify if a pilot or co-pilot is under some kind of mental pressure that may make him unfit to fly even on a temporary basis. Now, employers have a duty of care towards their employees. They need to treat them fairly but, overwhelmingly, the most important thing for Australians is for us to be sure that our travel is safe and that means we need to be sure that our pilots are healthy and alert and able to do their job.

Adam Shand: Yes. Dare I say it, I'm sure Germanwings, which is a Lufthansa subsidiary, have pretty rigorous mental health requirements for their pilots as well but Lubitz got through. I wonder whether in addressing the issue of people in the cockpit, we're looking at the anomaly and actually not addressing the underlying cause, which is mental health.

Warren Truss: Well, we clearly as a nation need to address mental health issues. That's most important and that applies to the community as a whole. Pilots, though, are in a particular position of trust and responsibility and, therefore, we have to be particularly aware of the need for them to be in good physical and mental condition. And there are already a number of mental conditions which pilots, if they're suffering from, are not able to fly and not able to get a pilot's license and that's as it should be. But they should be treated fairly and we know that many people recover from mental illness and that has to be accepted, too. So you're right to say that it's a very difficult judgment that the airlines have to make. They have in place mechanisms to ensure that their pilots and their crew are in good physical and mental condition, but this is a key area for us to need to look at also into the future.

Adam Shand: Indeed. Well, thanks for your time, Warren Truss.

Warren Truss: You're very welcome.