The Federal Aviation Administration says it will require medical examiners who screen commercial pilots to undergo more training to help them better identify warning signs. But commercial pilots still will not need to undergo psychological testing.
The move is a direct response to the deadly crash involving Germanwings flight 9525 in March 2015. The Airbus 320 from Barcelona to Dusseldorf, Germany, smashed into a mountainside in a remote area of the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board.
The flight's data recorder revealed that the co-pilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately crashed the plane after locking the captain out of the cockpit when he left to use a restroom.
Investigators determined that the 27-year-old pilot had a history of severe depression but hid his illness from his employer.
After the incident, federal regulators, along with industry and medical experts, began studying the issue of mental illness among airline pilots in the United States.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told reporters the agency "will not add psychological testing to the hiring process" for commercial pilots because there's no proof such tests would improve safety. Huerta said the tests would only evaluate "a snapshot of time" in the pilot's life.
Instead, the FAA says it will work to remove the stigma of mental illness by increasing support programs for pilots.
The FAA says it will continue to rely on pilots to voluntarily report any mental issues.
When asked whether voluntary reporting was enough considering the Germanwings pilot deliberately hid his illness, Huerta said its current procedures, coupled with the cockpit rules currently in place, add a layer of protection. After September 11, rules were put in place requiring two people to remain in the cockpit at all times.
Although commercial pilots are not currently required to take psychological tests, airlines do administer personality tests.
"U.S. commercial pilots undergo vigorous and regular screening," Huerta said.
Certain medical conditions, such as psychosis, bipolar disorder and severe personality disorder automatically disqualify a pilot from obtaining an FAA medical certificate and prohibit them from flying. Pilots are also required by the FAA to undergo a medical exam every six or 12 months, depending on the pilot's age.