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A320 pilot could bar colleague from cockpit, video shows

Thursday, March 26, 2015 - 23:18
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A pilot exiting the flight deck of an A320 jet like the one that crashed in France can be prevented from re-entering if the remaining airman operates manual locks on the inside of the cockpit door, an official Airbus video shows.

[PARIS] A pilot exiting the flight deck of an A320 jet like the one that crashed in France can be prevented from re-entering if the remaining airman operates manual locks on the inside of the cockpit door, an official Airbus video shows.

This appears to be what happened on the Germanwings plane that smashed into a mountainside on Tuesday. Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz didn't respond to calls to open the door and deliberately initiated the crash, French prosecutor Brice Robin said today at a press conference in Marseille.

The film on Youtube shows that while a crew member can open the reinforced barrier from the outside by entering an emergency code, that process can easily be overridden. The actions of the two Germanwings pilots became a focus for investigators after an examination of voice recordings showed one was locked out of the cockpit in the minutes before impact.

Flight-deck doors were turned into impenetrable barriers in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. While the measures have greatly improved protection from potential hijackers, the Airbus video shows that they've made it equally difficult for crew to access the cockpit in the event of an emergency or aberrant action by a sole pilot.

Germanwings, the low-cost subsidiary of Deutsche Lufthansa AG said it can't comment on the voice-recorder evidence because the investigation is a matter for the authorities.

France's BEA air-accident investigator is leading the probe, and said on Wednesday that it had extracted the audio file from a black-box device recovered from the scene.

European Aviation Safety Agency rules say that pilots must remain in the cockpit unless they have to be absent "in connection with the operation" or for physiological requirements, such as the need to go to the lavatory, and at least one pilot must remain at the controls at all times.

In Germany, a video camera must be in place so a lone pilot may identify a colleague seeking entrance to the cockpit without leaving their seat, while other regulators allow peep-holes in the door. In such cases, another crew member must come into the cockpit when the second pilot leaves. They can then identify the returning colleague by using the peep-hole, so one pilot is always seated.

In the US, if a pilot is alone in the cockpit, they must also put on an oxygen mask until the other pilot returns.

Lufthansa said the A320's cockpit had fortified doors, with video surveillance to prevent unauthorized entry. Some airlines require two people to remain on the flight deck in the case that one pilot steps out, though Lufthansa said there is no uniform rule on this.

The plane's captain was "very experienced" and had flown for charter carrier Condor and Lufthansa's main brand for about 10 years before joining Germanwings last May. The co-pilot joined in September 2013.

BLOOMBERG