Tragic and shocking as was the loss of Germanwings flight 4U9525, there are fundamentals about the global air transportation industry that have directly resulted in its stellar safety record and which must be upheld.

All the preliminary evidence points overwhelmingly to this crash being the result of a deliberate act by the co-pilot. That is deeply disturbing both to the industry and to the traveling public, but ALPA president Tim Canoll said it right when he commented at a conference in Phoenix that it does not change the overall industry safety landscape.

No robust, healthy, strong safety system remains static, of course, and there are lessons to be learned from this crash as with any other major event involving an airline, especially one where so many lives were lost.

But it should also be taken into account that this was an extremely rare event. While it raises issues of psychological screening of flight crew, any changes in personnel assessment processes and regulatory requirements must be considered within the larger context of the fact that the vast majority of pilots are dedicated, highly skilled professionals whose top priority is to ensure a safe flight. In the immediate aftermath of 4U9525, many airlines and countries implemented what has long been the US practice of mandating there are always two people in the cockpit. That was a sensible, pragmatic move. Any other potential changes should be fully and carefully considered before implementation and must involve and have the support of the commercial pilot community.

Of even greater concern, however, is how quickly the 4U9525 accident investigation transitioned to a public criminal investigation. Within days, French prosecutors were releasing their “evidence” against the co-pilot. While it is increasingly difficult-to-impossible to keep information confidential on such high-profile events during a lengthy accident investigation – and the families of the victims and the traveling public deserve answers as to how and why – the rush to criminal finger-pointing is neither welcome nor constructive.

We saw a similar pattern, unfortunately, with the 2013 crash of Asiana flight 214 at San Francisco Airport. Although not to the same extent as happened in France, the then-head of the NTSB very quickly and publicly raised questions about how closely the Asiana pilots who landed the aircraft were monitoring cockpit indicators such as speed, while South Korean authorities punished Asiana with a 45-day ban on flights to SFO. 

Punitive actions, quick-fire finger-pointing and criminal actions before an accident is fully and properly investigated do not create a safer industry. Indeed, if they lead to reluctance among industry professionals to divulge and share safety information, then the result could be a step backwards.

“Safety first” is a globally-adhered to industry mantra. When something goes tragically wrong, let’s not lose sight of that.