Lufthansa Group CEO Carsten Spohr (AP)
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) – The crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in France has heaped intense pressure on Lufthansa’s CEO Carsten Spohr, who in less than a year at the helm has had to grapple with weak earnings, labour unrest and tough competition from lower-cost carriers.
Analysts say he has made the correct moves, notably in his swift expressions of sympathy for the 149 victims and the relatives of those who died last week. French officials say co-pilot Andreas Lubitz locked the pilot out of the cockpit and deliberately flew the Airbus A320 into a mountainside in the French Alps.
They point to Lufthansa’s admission that Lubitz had told them during his training that he had been treated for serious depression as an example of owning up quickly to bad news.
“They are taking it absolutely seriously, they are not being anything other than completely cooperative with the authorities and that’s a good start,” said Andrew Charlton, managing director of strategic consulting and government affairs firm Aviation Advocacy in Nyon, Switzerland.
Spohr, he added, has “checked all the boxes” in responding to the crash and treating the situation with “the gravitas it requires”.
Spohr, 48, is far from done with the grim ordeal. The investigation will take months. Still ahead is the April 17 memorial service in the massive cathedral in Cologne, near where Germanwings is headquartered. The crash has stained Lufthansa’s strong safety reputation – it is its worst crash since being revived after World War II in 1955 and the first fatal accident since 1993.
The disaster during the flight from Barcelona to Duesseldorf has subjected the airline to scrutiny over whether Lubitz should have been allowed to join its budget arm Germanwings in 2013.
Spohr has said “no system in the world can rule out such an isolated event” but has been careful to say the word “sorry” and express his personal pain.
“I have worked at Lufthansa as an engineer, I have worked as a pilot at Lufthansa, I have carried responsibility as a manager at Lufthansa for many, many years,” he said. “Always, wherever I was, whoever my boss was, the rule was always safety is No. 1. And that this has happened to us – I can only say we are sorry.”
So far, the German press, unions and government have not turned sharply on Spohr. Germany’s Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt said discussions over any management culpability from knowing Lubitz’s history of depression are “unnecessary”.