This year has, in spite of the only two crashes - Transasia in Taiwan and German Wings last week, is the safest on record. Both of these appear totally avoidable. This year 195 persons have lost their lives in these two incidents (the only two commercial airline crashes this year) but one has to compare that with the alternative - any other form of travel.
I said to a nervous passenger recently "you should be nervous coming in to land" and he was shocked until he saw the funny side - I carried on "because you will very soon be in your car and that is when you truly should worry!". In fact you are hundreds of times more likely to die in a car than on a plane. So, it is important to get things into perspective if at all possible.
What is happening to avoid the captain being locked out of the flight deck? Well, many airlines already have a policy of keeping a cabin crew member in the flight deck while the other pilot answers the call of nature. Aer Lingus and Ryanair are examples. Most others will follow very quickly. That is a start and perhaps we need to review the current policy of allowing the switch on the flight deck to bar entry at all times even to people with the correct code. This was designed to keep hijackers out of the flight deck long enough to land the plane.
As for pilots with mental illness being allowed to fly, that will no doubt also be under heavy review, but one must tread carefully. Pilots are assessed when they start their careers, and have a medical every six months to a year depending on age. The examiner will assess mental states as well as physical. But it is not infallible. One of the best safeguards is 'peer observation'. Your colleague on the flight deck probably knows you very well and can detect changes in behaviour. They can encourage a sufferer to go the airline medical people and get help. Or they can simply report it confidentially. But it requires an open and benign management team at the airline to offer support and treatment in a non-judgmental way so that people will come forward. My own airline, BA, had that system and it worked very well. Many pilots came forward over the years, and they nearly all returned to flying once the problems had been sorted out and the CAA doctors had determined that they were fit to operate again.
So, have confidence in the pilots who with very few exceptions simply wish to get to the destination safely, and if they do that, so do you!
John Leahy 30 March 15