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U.S. to review pilot mental health checks after deadly Germanwings crash

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON — A panel of experts from government and industry will review how the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration monitors the mental health of commercial pilots and will make recommendations within six months, the agency said Wednesday.

Formation of the Pilot Fitness Aviation Rulemaking Committee was announced two months after a Germanwings flight crashed in the French Alps. Allegations that a co-pilot deliberately crashed the plane have prompted regulatory scrutiny of pilot screening procedures.

The committee of U.S. and international experts will examine methods used to evaluate pilots’ emotional health as well as the barriers to reporting any issues, the FAA said. It said the panel’s meetings will not be open to the public.

Based on the group’s recommendations, the FAA could consider changes to testing procedures, aircraft design, pilot training and other areas.

Airlines for America, the Washington-based trade group that represents U.S. carriers, said one of its members will co-chair the committee.

Airlines for America “is looking forward to working with FAA and the aviation community on ways we can continue to build on our strong safety standards,” spokeswoman Melanie Hinton said in a statement.

The FAA said U.S. pilots already undergo robust medical screening but that the Germanwings disaster and the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in March 2014 prompted the regulator to take a new look at pilot fitness.

Current U.S. regulations require pilots operating scheduled flights to have a physical examination yearly, or every six months if a captain is 40 or older. Each pilot must also complete an FAA medical application form that inquires about mental disorders.

The tests are performed by Aviation Medical Examiners who ask about the psychological condition of pilots, “and the AME can defer any examination when he or she believes additional psychological testing may be indicated,” the FAA has said.

Pilots face fines of up to $250,000 if they are found to have falsified information, it said.

Deutsche Lufthansa AG, which owns Germanwings, “highly welcomes efforts that serve to further increase international aviation safety and will fully support these efforts,” spokeswoman Claudia Lange said in a statement.

The European Commission has asked the European Aviation Safety Agency to assess a report on the causes of the Germanwings jet crash. European rules may then be updated.

According to preliminary findings from that report, the accused Germanwings co-pilot had rehearsed the maneuver to crash the plane.

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