One of the fundamental pillars of aviation is that the whole industry learns from an accident, irrespective of where it occurred. Geography and distance should not block valuable lessons from being learned.
An aircraft crashes into the ground, with one pilot locked out of the cockpit, killing all on board. The airline is LAM Mozambique and the date is Nov. 29, 2013. So why did another 150 lives have to be lost before European airlines changed their cockpit procedures?
According to the preliminary report, the co-pilot of LAM flight TM470 left the cockpit to use the toilet, leaving the captain on the flight deck. The Embraer 190 was then manually flown into the ground, despite various audible warnings from the aircraft’s systems. The co-pilot could be heard banging on the cockpit door, trying to regain entry. All 27 passengers and six crew members perished in the high-speed impact.
Fast forward 16 months to the loss of Germanwings flight 4U9525, which claimed the lives of 144 passengers and six crew. French prosecutor Brice Robin claims the Germanwings co-pilot deliberately crashed the Airbus A320 into the French Alps while the captain was locked out of the cockpit.
It will be months before the Germanwings investigation delivers any conclusions, but European airlines have not waited on the Germanwings report before changing their policies, requiring two crew members to be present on the flight deck at all times. They have identified a weakness in their procedures and acted accordingly. But if this weakness had been identified 16 months ago, would the headlines be different today?
The interim accident report into TM470 was released last December. The lessons were there for the taking. One of the fundamental pillars of aviation is that the whole industry learns from an accident, irrespective of where it occurred. It is extremely naïve to believe this could only happen to an African airline.
The LAM aircraft was a 2012-build Embraer 190. It was a new example of a well-respected type, operated by some of the world’s best airlines. Conditions were normal and no mechanical faults were detected. LAM has repeatedly secured IATA IOSA certification. I have flown on one of their E-190s – possibly this very aircraft - and would fly with them again without hesitation.
This could have happened anywhere in the world, but it didn’t. It involved an African airline, flying from a country which is blacklisted by the European Union. That does not reduce its significance. The Namibian authorities are signing off their final report as we speak. It will be interesting to see how much coverage it picks up.
Reporting on this sort of event once in a lifetime is more than enough. Reporting on it twice in such quick succession is heart breaking. Geography and distance should not block valuable lessons from being learnt.