After the Germanwings crash, airline pilots are seen as possible threats

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Marco Werman: It is difficult to fathom, but at this point we’re not just talking about a plane crash in the Alps that killed 150 people. We’re talking about a possible mass murder.


Brice Robin: The intention was to destroy this plane.


Werman: that’s French prosecutor Brice Robin speaking this morning through an interpreter. He confirmed reports that the pilot of Germanwings flight 9525 was locked out of the cockpit by his copilot, and that the evidence suggests it was the copilot himself who deliberately crashed the plane on tuesday. The CEO of Lufthansa, which owns Germanwings, said he was stunned by the revelations but ultimately Carsten Spohr went on to say “There is no way to prevent a rogue pilot from bringing down a plane.”


Carsten Spohr: I would like to repeat: irrespective of your safety criteria and even if it is very, very sophisticated, you can never exclude such an individual event. No system in the world would manage to do so.


Fintan Ryan: I agree with that. If a pilot wants to crash an airplane, he can crash it. He doesn’t need anything to do it.


Werman: That’s Fintan Ryan, a pilot with 25 years experience with Aer Lingus out of Ireland. Ryan says regulations for airline cockpit safety rules changed a lot after 9/11, especially regarding the doors.


Ryan: There was very strict criteria laid down as to whether they should be bulletproof and hand grenade proof and all of that sort of thing, and the entry and exit rules were a bit weird, but basically you had a situation where if a cabin crew member or a flight attendant wanted to go into the cockpit, they called on the interphone and told the pilot that they wanted to come in, and the pilot would recognize them and say “Okay Mary, you can come in now,” and she would actually press a button and the pilots would allow the door to be opened. On the other hand, if somebody who they didn’t want to be let into the cockpit tried to get in, the door would be locked and they would not be able to get in.


Werman: We’re talking about a situation though that the doors are so secure that even the lead pilot can’t get back in. That seems like an oversight.


Ryan: Well, it’s an oversight--it’s a system problem really, because you want to keep out the bad guys and let in the good guys. You would assume that you would never have a situation where you have nobody in the cockpit, so the arrangement is that you can always get into the cockpit provided that the person in the cockpit wants to allow you to get in there. So, if somebody wants to get into the cockpit that is not wanted in the cockpit, the pilot can keep the door locked indefinitely.


Werman: The rules prior to 9/11, what were they regarding getting into the cockpit?


Ryan: The rules then were based on what’s called a sterile cockpit, and this is a situation where the flight attendant should stay out of the cockpit at times when the workload was high, and this would be, say, ten minutes before landing, ten minutes after take off, and if there was rough weather or thunderstorms, that sort of thing. So, the cockpit door would be locked then. But normally the cockpit door was left open, so anybody who strolled by could actually walk in.


Werman: Do air marshals of any nationality travel internally on European flights and would that have made any difference?


Ryan: I don’t think it would have made any difference because even the air marshal couldn’t have gotten into the cockpit. There is an arrangement in the US, and it’s under practice in the US, that if one pilot wants to leave the cockpit, let’s say to go to the bathroom, then one of the flight attendants or perhaps a deadheading pilot, would sit in the cockpit so that there is always two people there, because there is a danger that when there’s one pilot in the cockpit, that pilot could become disabled one way or the other, could get very sick or something, and then you have nobody minding the cockpit. So, there is an arrangement in the US and with a lot of airlines in Europe, that there always has to be two people in the cockpit. But that procedure was not used by Lufthansa.


Werman: There was another budget airline, Norwegian Air Shuttle, which today said it’s going to start to require two crewmembers always present in the cockpit to fly the aircraft. To you, does that sound like a reasonable solution?


Ryan: Well, it’s a solution to this particular case. But just to explain something else: supposedly one pilot wants to go back and the other pilot is left in there, that pilot can lock the door and he has a situation that if anybody puts in any code or anything, that he can actually override that code. So, he can keep a person out. So, this is what this copilot did. Every time somebody wanted to get in, he just overrode the system and kept the cockpit locked.


Werman: The bottom line here though is that we’re talking now about pilots as a possible threat. We must clarify that there’s still a lot we don’t know about the copilot, but do you see this as a game changer?


Ryan: I think it will be a game changer. There was a time when nobody would even conceive of a pilot doing that sort of thing. There was a sort of honor about it, that pilots were above this sort of thing, like in other professions, and they wouldn’t do this. But there’s no way you can stop this. There’s no system that would stop a pilot either crashing or hijacking an aircraft because they’re totally in control and they have to be.


Werman: Former pilot Fintan Ryan. He flew for 25 years with the Irish carrier Aer Lingus. Fintan, thank you very much.


Ryan: You’re very welcome.