AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The disaster at budget airline Germanwings which killed 150 people will not harm the image of low-cost air travel in Europe, easyJet (EZJ.L) chief executive Carolyn McCall said on Tuesday.
Airlines across the world were left reeling after investigators said they believed the co-pilot of a Germanwings flight locked himself alone in the cockpit and deliberately steered it into a mountain, killing everyone on board.
Germanwings, founded in 2002 as a budget carrier, was acquired by full-service airline Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) in 2009, and the parent company has expanded it into its main short-haul operator to battle competition from low-cost carriers such as easyJet and Ryanair (RYA.I).
McCall, in Amsterdam to open a new base for the airline, said the Germanwings crash was a matter for all airlines.
“This is not a budget airline issue. This is an airline issue. This is an industry thing,” she told Reuters in an interview.
EasyJet moved swiftly to change its cockpit policy as details emerged of what had caused the crash, requiring two crew members to be on the flightdeck at all times.
Under European regulations, pilots were permitted to leave the cockpit temporarily at certain times and under certain circumstances, leaving the other pilot alone. Since the crash, the EU has advised airlines to have two crew members on the flightdeck at all times.
“I think that every airline will be looking at everything they do in light of what’s happened,” McCall said.
After German prosecutors said Lubitz had hidden an illness from his employers, strict German laws on doctor-patient confidentiality have come under the spotlight.
Any changes to a pilot’s right to medical confidentiality would be an issue not just for the airline industry, but on a wider scale, McCall said.
“That’s an ethics issue. It’s something that the government will have to address. If they don’t do it in the Army, the Navy, there are equally sensitive areas that have the same levels of confidentiality. It would be a much bigger deal than just an airline thing.”
EasyJet, she added, has for years done more than is required by legislation to ensure the well-being of its pilots through its fatigue-reporting management system, which is used to keep a check on pilot tiredness.
Budget airlines have a reputation for pushing for the lowest pilot pay and the most flexible working arrangements to keep a lid on costs.
EasyJet, unlike some other carriers, said it employs staff directly on permanent contracts and aims to pay a median salary for the country where staff members are based, plus performance and company-related bonuses which can take pay higher.
But for McCall safety is about culture, not wages.
“I don’t think safety has anything to do with pay,” she said. “No one doubts that safety is the number one priority of the airline. I think that’s embedded in our culture.”
“Safety is entirely to do with the culture of an airline, with the professionalism of people that you employ, and that comes down to new recruits, how you recruit how you treat people and how the safety culture permeates the airline,” she said.
Reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by Angus MacSwan