WASHINGTON—While not criticizing French authorities for their handling of the Germanwings Flight 4U9525 investigation, IATA Director General Tony Tyler said it has been “highly unusual” and “shouldn’t set a precedent for the future.”

“I’m not going to say anyone has done anything wrong, but the important thing to keep in mind is that accident investigations should be conducted on a non-punitive basis,” Tyler said here on April 8. He noted that the Germanwings probe quickly “morphed into a highly public criminal investigation” two days after the crash, when a French prosecutor outlined evidence that the co-pilot had deliberately descended the Airbus A320 into the French Alps while the flight’s captain was locked out of the cockpit, killing all 150 people on board.

The crash has “left all of us shocked and looking for answers,” Tyler said. “The first thing is we have to make sure the accident is properly investigated and we learn what happened, and then we draw conclusions about what has to be done.”

Tyler acknowledged that “the issue of psychological screening … of not only pilots but others in the [airline] safety-value chain is something that will have to be considered.” He added, “People will start looking at these [mental health] issues with fresh eyes. No doubt there will be a lot of thinking and consideration about how we can avoid this in the future.”

Tyler said the move by airlines around the world to require two crew members in the cockpit at all times “seems a sensible thing to do” while the crash investigation continues, but he cautioned that a full understanding of what happened should be established before significant changes to policy or regulations are enacted. 

“This is an extraordinary event, a terrible tragedy,” he said. “We need to consider it is a very rare event. It will prove in due course as another example of how the industry learns from tragedies and seeks to mitigate the risk of it ever happening again. I’m sure the right lessons will be learned.”

Tyler said it is critical to maintain the principle that the “overriding purpose of an accident investigation” is to learn what happened so a repeat can be avoided, not to enact punishment. “When you have the possibility of punitive measures resulting from an accident investigation, you risk losing the transparency and openness that is so important when you are trying to find root causes,” he explained.