How do airlines screen pilots for mental health issues? by Daniel Bukszpan @FortuneMagazine March 26, 2015, 3:35 PM EDT E-mail Tweet Facebook Google Plus Linkedin Share icons In the days since the deadly crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps, one possible cause has come to light: the incident may not have been an accident, according to information gleaned from the plane’s cockpit voice recorder. According to ABC News, pilot Patrick Sonderheimer can be heard on the cockpit voice recorder asking his co-pilot, 28-year-old Andreas Lubitz, to take over the controls, an then leave the cockpit. Shortly thereafter, the plane began an accelerated descent, and Sonderheimer can be heard knocking furiously on the locked cockpit door, demanding to be let back in. There was no response from Lubitz, who could be heard breathing up until the moment of impact. Lubitz made a “deliberate attempt” to destroy the aircraft, Marseilles prosecutor Brice Robin said in a statement Thursday. The incident raises questions about the psychological screening pilots undergo. In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration guidelines state that pilot candidates can have no established history of a “personality disorder that is severe enough to have repeatedly manifested itself by overt acts,” psychosis, bipolar disorder, or substance dependence. German pilots are bound by the guidelines set out by the European Aviation Safety Agency. These stipulate that “applicants shall have no established medical history or clinical diagnosis of any psychiatric disease or disability, condition or disorder, acute or chronic, congenital or acquired, which is likely to interfere with the safe exercise of the privileges of the applicable licence(s),” and that “applicants shall undergo satisfactory psychiatric evaluation before a fit assessment can be considered.” They also say that “applicants with an established history or clinical diagnosis of schizophrenia, schizotypal or delusional disorder shall be assessed as unfit.” In the U.S., a psychiatrist and a clinical psychologist conduct separate evaluations, while in Europe “a psychological evaluation may be required as part of, or complementary to, a specialist psychiatric or neurological examination.” Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said at a press conference that Lubitz had joined the airline as first officer in 2013, after a six-month interruption in his training in 2008, for reasons that were not specified. He added that such interruptions in training are routine, and when Lubitz returned, he was tested and deemed suitable to continue. “We checked his skills, his competence, and he went back to training school,” Spohr said. “He went through all of that with flying colors … He was fit in all areas, 100%.” Officials have not called the actions of Lubitz a suicide. However, if he indeed suffered a mental breakdown while at the airplane’s controls, it wouldn’t be the first time something like that has happened. In March 2012, Captain Clayton Osbon was locked out of the cockpit of the JetBlue Airways craft that he was piloting after he began ranting uncontrollably in the middle of a flight from New York to Los Angeles. He was subdued by crew members and passengers, and the plane made an emergency landing in Texas. The incident leads one to wonder what kinds of precautions authorities take to insure that pilots are in satisfactory mental health before they enter the cockpit. French and German officials said there was no indication Lubitz was a terrorist. Acquaintances described him as an affable young man who had given no sign of harboring harmful intent. According to Marseille prosecutor Robin, Lubitz acted “for a reason we cannot fathom right now.” —Reuters contributed to this report. Daniel Bukszpan is a New York-based freelance writer.