* Lufthansa to require two people in cockpit at all times
* Reversal of earlier comments by CEO
* EU agency issues recommendation for European airlines
* Lufthansa creates new group safety pilot role (Adds details on safety pilots, other airlines changing rules, union comment)
BERLIN, March 27 (Reuters) - Lufthansa said on Friday it would introduce new rules requiring two crew members in cockpits at all times, a swift reversal after its CEO said such a change was not needed despite the crash at its Germanwings subsidiary.
The European Union said it would now advise all EU airlines to require two crew members on the flight deck, effectively ensuring that a rule which is already mandatory in the United States will now become the standard in Europe as well.
Prosecutors believe Andreas Lubitz, 27, locked himself alone in the cockpit of the Airbus A320 on Tuesday and deliberately steered it into a mountain, killing all 150 people on board.
Within hours of prosecutors disclosing that scenario, several airlines announced immediate changes to their policies to ensure pilots were never left alone in the cockpit.
Lufthansa’s CEO Carsten Spohr initially said he saw no need for such a change, remarks that drew derision on social media, with passengers saying they would not fly. Within a day the company reversed itself.
“The passenger airlines of the Lufthansa Group will put this new rule into place as soon as possible in agreement with the relevant authorities,” Lufthansa said in a statement on Friday.
The Lufthansa Group also includes Germanwings, Austrian Airlines, Swiss and Eurowings.
Crisis communication specialists told Reuters it had been a mistake for Spohr to dismiss the changes so swiftly and categorically.
“It would have been better to say, ‘We’ll investigate it’,” crisis communications consultant and former Virgin Atlantic director Paul Charles told Reuters.
Under rules already practiced in the United States, whenever either the pilot or co-pilot steps out of the cockpit, a second member of the crew such as a flight attendant is required to enter. A rogue pilot determined to lock the door and set a deadly course would first have to overpower a colleague.
That will now become the effective standard across the European Union after the EU aviation regulator recommended all European airlines adopt it.
While such a recommendation is not technically mandatory, an airline could be challenged in national courts if it ignores it, an EU official said. Making the recommendation is faster than the process for drawing up new mandatory regulations.
All German airlines have now agreed to the change. German pilots’ union Vereinigung Cockpit, which had also initially said it would be better to wait for the full crash report before making any changes, welcomed the decision.
Lufthansa also said it was creating a new role of group safety pilot, putting Werner Hass, the man previously in charge of safety only at flagship brand Lufthansa, in charge of safety at all four airlines owned by the group. (Reporting by Victoria Bryan, Tim Hepher; Additional reporting by Alastair McDonald and Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Caroline Copley, Susand Fenton and Peter Graff)