The White House on Wednesday said U.S. pilots are “appropriately” screened for mental health issues as questions mount about the background of a Germanwings pilot who intentionally crashed a flight in the French Alps last week.
Officials in France have said Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz battled depression in the years before he purposely crashed the jet into a mountain.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) tries to balance the privacy of pilots with the interests of protecting passengers who are flying on commercial flights.
“Obviously, first and foremost in their mind is ensuring the interests of the traveling public,” he said. “And that’s why the FAA, the [National Transportation Safety Board] and other agencies like that have in place regulations that — that are related to the health and well being of train conductors and airline pilots.”
Earnest said pilots “don’t give up all of their right to privacy” just because they start flying, but he said “trying to strike that right balance is an important public policy question” that the FAA spends a lot of time on.
“I will say that the FAA when it comes to airline pilots does have regulations that require pilots over the age of 40 to submit to a medical examination once every six months to ensure that they are fit to fly an aircraft that has member of the traveling public on it,” he said. “And those kinds of healthcare examinations include a component dedicated to their psychological health as well. And that’s an appropriate policy response.”
Officials with Germanwings parent company, Lufthansa, have come under fire for reportedly ignoring an email from Lubitz when he was in flight school where he admitted to battling depression.
French authorities have accused the 27-year-old of locking the captain of Germanwings Flight 9525 out of the cockpit and intentionally crashing the plane, killing everyone on board.
The flight from Barcelona, Spain, to Dusseldorf, Germany, was carrying 150 people — 144 passengers and six crew members — when it crashed into the mountain at a high speed.
Initial reports indicated Lubitz destroyed a doctor’s note excusing him from work on the day of the crash before he entered the cockpit for the fatal flight.
FAA records show Lubitz was certified as a pilot by U.S. officials. The FAA certification lists Lubitz as a “private pilot (foreign based),” who was allowed to fly single-engine places and gliders in the U.S.
U.S. airline industry officials have said an accident like the Germanwings crash is unlikely to happen on a domestic jetliner because U.S. regulations require two people to be in airplane cockpits at all times.