Flight Deck Security

On March 24, 2015, a Germanwings Airbus A320 crashed in the French Alps, killing all 150 souls on board. Following this tragedy, the French accident investigation authority (BEA) commenced an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the loss. On March 13, 2016 the BEA released their final report, concluding that the First Officer, while alone on the flight deck, deliberately caused the crash by modifying the autopilot settings and locking the flight deck door to prevent the Captain from returning. He was unresponsive to all requests for access by the Captain and all communication attempts from air traffic control. This tragedy identified some risks associated with having only one crew member on a secure flight deck.

Pursuant to the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs), passenger-carrying commercial aircraft must be equipped with reinforced flight deck doors that are locked at all times from when the aircraft entry door is closed until arrival. In certain circumstances, flight crew members are permitted to leave the flight deck. On March 27, 2015, the Ministry of Transport issued Interim Order 1. Pursuant to which all Canadian and foreign airlines operating in Canadian airspace are required to implement a “two persons on the flight deck at all times” procedure. This procedure has been in place for Canadian airlines operating in US airspace since 2002.

Interim Order 1 has subsequently been amended a number of times. The most current version is Interim Order 5, issued June 16, 2016.  Interim Order 5 applies to the operation of an aeroplane by a domestic commercial air operator involved in passenger-carrying air transport service as well as the operation in Canadian airspace of a 20+ passenger-carrying aeroplane by a foreign operator under a Canadian foreign air operator certificate. Both domestic and foreign operators must ensure that if a flight crew member leaves the flight deck during flight, one flight crew member and one other authorized person remain present on the flight deck while the flight crew member who left the flight deck is absent. “Authorized persons” is defined differently for domestic and foreign operators. For domestic operators, an “authorized person” may include, amongst others:

  • a flight crew member;
  • an employee of the air operator who is not a crew member;
  • a pilot, flight engineer or flight attendant employed by a wholly owned subsidiary or a codeshare partner of the air operator; and
  • a crew member.

An “Authorized person” for foreign operators is defined more narrowly and restricted to include, amongst others:

  • a flight crew member; and
  • a crew member.

Therefore, foreign air operators cannot use an employee who is not a crew member or a pilot, flight engineer or flight attendant employed by a subsidiary or codeshare partner.

Of note, these restrictions do not apply to:

  • Flights operating with only one flight attendant, where there is no other authorized person;
  • Aeroplanes that have a Class C or F cargo compartment located on the main deck between the flight deck and the passenger cabin; and
  • Foreign aeroplanes overflying into Canadian airspace pursuant to a flight authorization (the Interim Order will still apply to operators that hold a Canadian foreign air operator certificate).

Also on March 27, 2015, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued a safety information bulletin recommending that airlines ensure that two crew members are on the flight deck at all times, including at least one qualified pilot. EASA is continuing its investigation into other possible safety measures which may assist in mitigating the risks of having only one flight crew member on the flight deck. Transport Canada is monitoring the process of that review and conducted its own risk assessment in June 2015. Their evaluation and consideration of the issues is ongoing and it is expected that regulatory amendments to the CARs will ultimately be proposed that are harmonious with other international regulations.