EASA in Consultations over Medical Privacy Policy

 - October 15, 2015, 9:00 AM
EASA executive director Patrick Ky (Photo: Thierry Dubois)

The European Aviation Safety Agency has begun to consider new recommendations related to medical privacy in response to the suicide flight of Germanwings pilot Andreas Lubitz, EASA chief Patrick Ky revealed during a recent press breakfast organized in Paris by French aviation journalists association AJPAE. Ky revealed the agency has consulted with psychiatrists as part of a study aimed at establishing advice modeled after existing laws in the UK that oblige doctors to reveal a patient’s medical conditions to authorities if they might result in harm to others. Immediately after the crash, EASA recommended that two people always sit in the cockpit during commercial flights. However, Ky expressed reservations about its effectiveness absent wider reaching initiatives. “It is very hard to know if two persons in the cockpit would have help avoid the crash,” he conceded.  

But the UK regulation, administered by that country’s General Medical Council, could help open the door for more safety. This rule stipulates that, if the medical condition of a patient could threaten the life of others, a doctor’s moral obligation dictates that he or she report it to authorities. “We need to see with the European commission if we can push a similar regulation in the rest of Europe,” Ky said. “This rule allows freedom of will for the practitioner, without any penal or judicial dimension.” One problem lies with the different approach promoted by each country, such as in Germany, where people are extremely secretive and protective in terms of collecting data, added Ky. An absence of common legislation in Europe accounts for another problem, he said, as does the fact that EASA cannot impose any decision, but only offer recommendations.

Meanwhile, terrorism and wars rank among EASA’s top concerns, heightened further by last year’s downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine. The agency has recommended new routes to bypass dangerous areas such as Syria and eastern and southern Ukraine, Ky explained. However, EASA’s recommendations cannot guarantee that the airlines follow them.

Even if the big European airlines do follow EASA’s recommendations, passenger confusion over code sharing can present another problem. Most passengers of MH17 had bought their tickets through KLM, believing that they would be flying on a carrier that follows the European recommendations. “The passengers expect a level of safety that is on the same level [as that of European airlines] and we need to make sure it is always the case,” said Ky.

Finally, Ky addressed a problem involving the level of security information to which EASA has access. Most defense agencies in Europe share information only with their own governments, leaving EASA to rely on the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration for information on terrorism threats. While the U.S. promotes itself as an aviation safety leader, EASA doesn’t enjoy full access to the information it needs to guarantee an equivalent level of safety.