Head of Germanwings (a company wholly owned by Lufthansa) has self-deprecatingly admitted that the mass murderer Andreas Lubitz slipped through the firm’s “safety net”.
That, as they say in the streets of London, is stating the bleeding obvious.
The real question is why the safety net has proved to be so permeable. After all, German companies, and Germans in general, aren’t known for a lackadaisical approach to procedure.
Nevertheless a man with a well-documented history of mental disorders was allowed to fly an airliner full of passengers, none of whom survived the experience.
Why? Would the same company allow a drunk pilot to take controls? Of course not. Lufthansa enforces a 12-hour, zero-tolerance limit ‘from bottle to throttle’.
Now I’d venture a guess that a pilot who had a few drinks 11 hours before flying presents less of a danger than a man suffering from clinical depression.
Yet Lubitz was suspended from the Lufthansa training course in 2008 for precisely that reason. He then underwent a year and a half of psychiatric treatment – and continued to receive it up until the tragic day.
In fact, Germany’s Federal Aviation Office reports that Lubitz’s medical condition and his need for regular psychiatric examinations have been noted in his pilot’s file.
Why then is Lufthansa so strict on drinking but so relaxed about mental disease? In the company’s own language, the answer is Zeitgeist.
We have all been conditioned to feel deep sympathy, bordering on admiration, for mental unbalance. After all, Freud is one of the gurus of modernity, with his psychobabble jargon accepted as meaningful not only linguistically but also substantively.
We are expected to take seriously such terms as ‘self-actualisation’, ‘synergy’, ‘complex’ (Oedipal, of inferiority or some such), ‘meaningful relationship’, ‘denial’, ‘co-dependent’, ‘dejection’, ‘penis envy’, ‘anal retentiveness’ and other verbal dross.
Whoever wields such terminology fluently is treated with respect, and the bubbly-quaffing classes in London or especially New York know that they’ll sound dull unless they admit to at least one mental quirk describable in Freudian cant.
The word ‘depression’ in particular has left the domain of psychiatric disorders to enter one of common parlance, where it’s treated as a more sophisticated term to describe a lousy mood.
Such lexical laxity trivialises a medical condition and, conversely, medicalises a purely existential one. Hence millions around the world, and practically all Americans, pop Prozac like Smarties whenever they feel a bit down.
Doctors routinely prescribe antidepressants for no medical reason, just to get perennial whingers out of their hair and to show that they too espouse the culture of care, share and be aware.
This erases the very valid distinction between someone who is occasionally unhappy and someone who is ill to the point of being dangerous to himself and others.
But even if a patient is legitimately ill, not to worry.
A deep conviction has been hammered into all of us that once he has been through analysis, especially when supported by a course of psychotropic drugs, he’s cured and fit for any job, including one in which he has the lives of hundreds at his fingertips.
However, every competent psychiatrist knows that depression can’t be cured; it can only be controlled. And control of anything may occasionally slip.
The whole area is obscure, and doctors readily admit the aetiology of depression is unknown. Even its biochemical nature is in doubt: clinical depression is accompanied by some chemical abnormality, but is it caused by it? No one knows.
Using drugs to correct the biochemical disorder usually alleviates the symptoms of depression (except in the most extreme of cases), but a responsible doctor is unlikely to say that the patient has been cured.
If that’s the case, then a chap who comes across as perfectly normal may one day have his depression triggered again by some random event, such as being dumped by a girlfriend, supposedly the case with Lubitz.
It ought to be clear to anyone who isn’t crazy himself that any history of any mental disorder, no matter how old or mild, should automatically disqualify an aspiring pilot – no further questions asked, no further examination needed.
This may sound harsh and unsympathetic, and sympathy is a fine human quality rich in Christian significance.
But then so is respect for human life and, when the two are in conflict, I’d say that potentially saving 150 people is a fair price to pay for a little insensitivity.
To be fair, most airlines, including our own EasyJet and Virgin Atlantic, have responded to the tragedy with a raft of immediate measures. Chief among them is a rule that no pilot shall be left in the cockpit by himself.
Since most cockpits (such as those on Germanwings Airbuses) are inhabited by only two pilots, this profession will soon feature an unusually strong bladder among its job requirements – after all, we don’t want those strapping, crisply uniformed lads to emerge from the flight deck reeking of urine.
I’d suggest a less malodourous solution. Anyone deemed unsafe to be left alone for a couple of minutes should be kept out of the cockpit by sensible and decisive vetting procedures, unsullied by the modern pseudo-psychological nonsense.
Well, I’d better stop here before I too begin to feel dejected, conflicted and depressed, with the attendant urge to have sex with my mother, kill my father and stick a needle in my eye.