Pilots with a history of depression should not be banned from flying commercial jets, according to a leading British psychiatrist, in a warning against a knee-jerk reaction to the French Alps air disaster.
Reports have suggested Andreas Lubitz had suffered from mental health issues and may have been receiving treatment for vision problems before he steered the Germanwings Airbus A320 into the mountain range, killing all 150 people on board.
A father of one of the three Britons on the flight called for more to be done to see pilots were “looked after”, while the Observer newspaper said Civil Aviation Authority documents suggested some 100 commercial airline pilots in the UK had a history of depression, with 42 still on medication.
However, Professor Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych), told the Observer the aviation industry should not “rush” to action in the wake of the crash.
He cited health authorities’ response to the crimes of Dr Harold Shipman, who is thought to have killed between 215 and 260 people, as an example of ineffective policy.
Prof Wessely said: “It is not a good idea to rush; it is like the response to Dr Shipman, an utterly bizarre and unpredictable event is not a good basis of policy. The procedures that they then brought in would not have prevented Shipman.
“I have dealt with some pilots with depression and when they recover they are still monitored, but the two I have dealt with returned to very successful careers. Why should they not?
“What does cause trouble is saying that if you ever have a history of depression then you should not be allowed to do whatever.
“That is wrong, as much as saying that people with a history of broken arms shouldn’t be allowed to do something.”
Philip Bramley, whose son Paul, 28, was one of the three Britons on board the Dusseldorf-bound flight, yesterday said: “I believe the airlines should be more transparent and our finest pilots looked after properly. We put our lives and our children’s lives in their hands.”
Questions continue to be asked about Lubitz’s mental and physical health days after he locked the captain out of the Airbus cockpit and brought down the airliner.
The New York Times cited unnamed German sources as saying that the 27-year-old may also have been receiving treatment for an unspecified vision problem that could have affected his ability to carry on working as a pilot.
Authorities have already revealed he hid from his employers a sick note declaring him unfit to work on the day of the disaster and German newspaper Bild has said he previously told an ex-girlfriend: “One day I will do something that will change the whole system, and then all will know my name and remember it.”
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