According to information gathered from the black box recorder, Germanwings co-pilot, 28-year-old Andreas Lubitz, intentionally killed 150 passengers in the French Alps crash. He refused to open the door of the cockpit to the pilot and began the descent of the plane. German media reports that he had 630 flight hours, joined the budget airline in September 2013 and passed all psychological tests prior to his start. Metro spoke with Ronan Hubert, an expert in aviation accidentology and specialist in psychological preparedness for mass disaster at the Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives (B3A), a Swiss organization that collates data on global air disasters.

What is the mindset and psychology of a pilot?

Of course, they are under a lot of stress and pressure. They have to deal with the weather, thunderstorms, etc. But there is no particular problem that we have seen during the last decades. 

It is the first suicide that we have at a European company. And the last case in world practice was 25 years ago. So, the risk that it will happen [again] is almost a zero.

How can you determine if a pilot wants to commit suicide?

It’s really difficult to say, because it happens with normal people every day. The pilot wakes up in the morning, everything seems to be alright and during the day he suddenly decides to commit suicide. We do not know for which reason, except he leaves a message. It’s hard to imagine that a pilot wouldl be able to do something like that. Because we are in the business, where safety is the most important thing. But pilot is a human! And like all humans in the world he can take wrong decisions.

Obviously, if company sees that pilot is not looking well, his skin color is strange etc., it does not let him to enter the cockpit, but call a doctor. Because no operator will take such a huge risk. This means, that nobody in the company imagined that Lubitz will do something like that.

What’s the difference between a suicide and an act of terrorism, when it’s committed onboard?

When a pilot decides to commit suicide, that’s true, he kills all the people who are in the aircraft. But these two things, in my point of view, cannot be compared, because the motivation is completely different.


What can be done to stop pilot suicide?

Aerial safety worldwide is really, really high. Concerning the psychological trainings of the pilots that every company does, I have no doubts that everywhere in the world every operator, every psychologist do their best. Again, pilots are humans. So, one day it’s all perfect, and suddenly they have a problem and you don’t know why. Two thousand people commit suicide every day in the world; there is no way to avoid it.

But can replacing human pilots with robots solve the problem?

If there will be no humans in the cockpit, I’m not sure it will work well. If we put a machine [in the cockpit], anyway, it will be controlled by a human and he will be able to do anything with the aircraft. Or, imagine that this robot goes wrong and we have a crash again. In any case, the zero risk does not exist.