Call for Radical Overhaul of Flight-Crew Health Assessments and A Passenger’s Right to Know!

Dear

Commissioner Bulc (DG Mobility & Transport);

Mr Ky (Executive Director – EASA);

The UK Secretary of State for Transport; The Right Honourable Patrick McLoughlin MP or his Successor; and

Mr Andrew Haines (CEO - UK CAA)

Open Letter – Call for Radical Overhaul of Flight-Crew Health Assessments and A Passenger’s Right to Know

The appalling story of Flight AU9525 has brought into sharp focus the 'contract of trust' that exists between the Consumer and an Airline.

Trust is also impliedly imported into the relationship between Government, Regulators and the Consumer.

We recognise trust via the initial contract between the Consumer and the airline and hope that the airline will provide a safe vehicle for transport; this trust is extended to those who create the Regulation on our behalf to underpin that desire for safe transport.

The rise of the Click n'go Generation goes someway to remove these considerations from Consumers minds, because of the ease at which we can transact our travel; it therefore falls to the Industry and Political side of the equation, to deliver the ultimate experience within a 99% safe environment.

We have long since argued that a Passenger must enjoy a Right to Know in aircraft fume events; this argument is now more acute because we now say that Passengers must also be informed of: 

  1. The nature of a cargo which could be transported on their flight which has an element of risk within its product;
  2. Whether an airline or flight travels over 'at risk' territories and what measures exist to protect the aircraft in flight;
  3. Whether an airline is demonstrated to have cause for concern, expressed by EASA & Civil Aviation Authorities, as to their operational safety - there needs to be an agreed league table;
  4. The nature and constituent products of a fume event;
  5. What a Passenger should do to safeguard their health following a fume event, and
  6. Information on how crew health is monitored:
    1. Whether an airline has any pilot or crew member with health concerns;
    2. What steps are they taking to protect passengers from the potential risk offered by any crew member, and
    3. Whether that crew member is operating the flight they are going to be flying on. 

There are many aerosol phrases about Europe's Open Skies, but those that make this Industry viable are often the forgotten part of the equation.

It is the absence of information to the Passenger that creates a continuance of the status quo, a lack of choice, an ill-informed Consumer, in fact everything that ensures that contrary to the notion of the Single Market, it is a Market that only serves the few.

Consumers are also joined by pilots and cabin-crew; this is a cohort whom I have had the pleasure meeting with in recent years - they are a decent and honourable group of people, but they too need to be included in the conversation on the operation of the Single Market and enjoy better protections.

None of us could fail to be moved by the plight of the surviving families and friends, nor of the raw emotion of horror delivered by the reports contained within the flight recorder information. We cannot imagine the situation faced by those passenger’s and crew; we don't want to live the horror, but we do want an Industry and Politics to deliver a clear, open and transparent information-set that restores Passenger confidence whilst elevating them to an equal level in the discussion around what constitutes the Single Market in Aviation.

As Consumers, if we resile from the horror of this crash and its questions, we also abdicate responsibility of how to confront the issues of 4U9525, the whole issue of how we travel and the current questionable knowledge-set that fails to empower a Consumer.

There are many commentators now speculating on the nature of legal action, questions of alleged negligence and compensatory value as the principle concerns of this debate.

I have no intention of analysing the nature of litigation; that must be left to others, but it is now imperative that questions following this flight need to be asked: 

  1. Who from the airline, its parent, or the regulatory body, knew about the medical history of Andreas Lubitz?
  2. Why did the airline, its parent, or the regulatory body, not apparently carry out a fuller investigation and monitoring of his medical history?
  3. What action was taken by any airline or parent company official or regulatory body, to either deal with concerns on his medical history or to properly assess that history, particularly with his own medical practitioner?
  4. Where had the line been drawn by the airline, its parent, or the regulatory body, to determine Andreas Lubitz's safe flying limit?
  5. When, and how many times, had the airline, its parent, or regulatory body, assessed his fitness to fly?
  6. How will this airline, its parent and indeed other airlines, and the regulatory bodies of the EU, resolve the serious concerns following the implications of flight AU9525? 

These primary questions lead to a wider consideration of how pilots and crew have their health assessed.

We can see from the Lubitz case that he was apparently seeing his medical practitioner and clearly the medical practitioner was dealing with Lubitz’s individual health problems with the care and skill of any reasonable medical practitioner.

However, the consequences of Flight AU9525 now raises important ethical and legal questions for any medical practitioner from hereon in; I would suggest that from this point onwards they should: 

  1. Understand the occupations/work history of their patients (This is not only important for jobs that involve flying but also for drivers of high speed trains, ferries and ships and to some extent, road transport);
  2. Recognise the potential risk attached to that occupation arising from any health problem;
  3. Understand the nature of the of the patient's illness measured against the risk of their occupation;
  4. Advise the patient that they must report a health problem measured against the risk of their occupation where it causes them concern;
  5. Report the patient's medical condition to a National Civil Aviation Authority and EASA (there would need to be an urgent medical reporting system and a commensurate action response);
  6. Such a medical practitioner would need to be protected from potential legal actions for breach of privacy/confidentiality based on a wider duty of care to society achieved through a 'Whistle-blowers' protective law,

The alternative is to create a medical service, independent of airlines and the National Regulatory bodies through which all day-to-day and serious medical needs/issues of pilots and crew could be addressed and attracting the same levels of confidentiality that this category currently enjoy, with the caveat that good health equals safe flying time and a safer work environment.

I see these options as the trade-off for those with the vocation to fly, against their right to choose their own medical practitioners and healthcare. These suggestions arise purely from the need for action for the protection of pilots, crew and passengers and society as a whole.

I can already imagine the horror of those reading this open letter which suggests an invasive response in the relationship between flight-crew and their employer.  However, flying is not just another job, it is as I have already stated, a vocation and the closest most Consumers can get to that vocation is through the purchase of an air ticket.

Pilots, Cabin Crew and Consumers deserve a better system of information and health protection and not just simply guaranteeing that there will always be two in the cockpit; what if one overcomes the other?

We think that it is time for Politicians, Civil Servants and Industry to ask some fundamental questions and to create a wider dialogue.

Such a dialogue should not just be with the Brussels Consumer Establishment, but also with external Consumer Organisations at the coal-face of Consumer Contact along with the Consumers themselves.

We have long advocated that a more constructive and broader Consumer interface should be created, to develop a real partnership for safer skies.

Following Flight AU9525, the question now open to be answered, without reference to past, and I would suggest redundant commentaries is; do you have the will and the political courage to affect this dialogue and change?

The families and friends of the deceased of flight AU9525 will expect you to do so and so will the general public!

I would be very happy to meet and discuss this and other issues directly with you. If you would like to develop this further with me, then please e mail me directly at frank@holidaytravelwatch.com

Yours Sincerely,

 

Frank Brehany

Consumer Director

HolidayTravelWatch

 

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