Aeronautics | 26. March 2015 | posted by Jan Wörner | 1 Comment

The tragedy of flight 4U9525

The crash of Germanwings flight 4U9525 has affected all of us over the last few days, leaving everyone shocked and saddened. The fact that, after a normal initial phase of its flight, the aircraft transitioned into a long descent before impacting on the French Alps initially led to wild speculation. The press repeatedly sought DLR's opinion, looking for statements. We declined any comments for reasons that are hopefully understandable, because we did not want to (and will not) contribute to the speculation.

The current assessment of what happened on board the Airbus A320 now points to deliberate action by the copilot. In this context, during a press conference, Lufthansa noted that DLR plays a role in pilot selection: "We have a lot of scope for examining the psychological suitability of pilots; the DLR tests are perhaps the leading process worldwide for this purpose." Media enquiries have turned from the technology to the people, and at the same time have multiplied.

It is true that the Department of Aviation and Space Psychology at the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine carries out suitability selection of operational personnel such as pilots, air traffic controllers and astronauts for various clients.

This means that every applicant for the Lufthansa Flight Training School, for example, must undergo psychological testing prior to being hired. During this procedure, knowledge characteristics (for example, English and engineering), cognitive performance (for example, spatial awareness), psychomotor skills, multitasking and general personality traits (for example, leadership skills, cooperation with colleagues and the ability to work under pressure) are examined. These tests are compliant with both scientific standards and legal requirements.

To prepare pilots and controllers to face the situations they will encounter in their everyday working lives requires special efforts to be made in psychometric testing and training. In addition to processing information at a high level of abstraction, personality factors are becoming increasingly important during the probationary period of operational staff, as well as what are referred to as 'Non-Technical Skills'. These include decision-making and problem solving under high pressure, clear communication, and cooperative team management. In the design of new psychological procedures for aviation, there is an increasing use of computer-based technologies, with which the suitability assessment and training can be made even more precise and cost-effective.

In the target field 'Selection and Training', research findings are directly translated into practical applications. Continuous scientific research and development ensures the high quality of the work conducted at DLR and also ensures the adaptation to technological trends in aviation and the changing requirements for operational staff.

Certainly, such a procedure does not exclude all risks pertaining to an individual's negative development, especially as the diagnosis of psychiatric conditions is not a part of the psychological examinations conducted here at DLR.

Our and my personal concern over what has happened has surely increased due to recent public questions. Our thoughts are with the families, friends and colleagues of all passengers and crew members.

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About the author

The ‘Jan Wörner’ blog was written by Johann-Dietrich ‘Jan’ Wörner during his time as the Chairman of the Executive Board of the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR). Jan Wörner wrote all the posts himself and then sent them to DLR Corporate Communications for editing, picture research and online publication. to authorpage