On the edge of a nondescript town in northern Germany are a low-slung set of buildings. Functional and unlovely, this is nonetheless the place where dreams are made. This is the Lufthansa pilot training school in Bremen and the wannabe destination of thousands of teenagers, most of them boys, who grow up dreaming of being a pilot.
In an average year, more than 6,000 would-be pilots apply for a place in Lufthansa’s prestigious pilot training program. In a normal year, around 200 are accepted. In 2008, Andreas Lubitz, the 27-year-old Germanwings co-pilot who last week deliberately crashed an Airbus 320 into the side of a French mountain, killing 149 people and himself, was one of them.
Being a pilot is a glamorous profession, not least because the entry requirements call for people who are tall – between 1.65 and 1.98 meters, or 5 feet 4 inches to 6 feet 4 inches, and in good health. All aviation safety procedures are based on the principle that the pilot is the single person on the plane who is most capable of protecting passengers.
But the news that Mr. Lubitz deliberately destroyed the plane he was in charge of has shaken this assumption.
It has also raised questions about the future of the airline industry, the economics of budget airlines, and has thrown a spotlight on the personality and motivations of pilots.
Richard de Crespigny, a pilot for Australia’s national carrier, Qantas, became a hero in 2010 after the engine of his Airbus 380 exploded four minutes into a flight out of Singapore. After a terrifying 90 minutes, when shards of metal sliced through the passenger jet wings and the fuel tank caught fire, Mr. de Crespigny and four other pilots on board safely landed in Singapore, saving all 469 people on board.