AF447: Air France sent back to court, case dismissed for Airbus

Pawel Kierzkowski

The Paris Public Prosecutor has requested Air France to face trial for manslaughter and negligence in the training of pilots, following the crash in 2009 of flight AF447 between Rio de Janeiro and Paris which killed 228 people. The Prosecutor also asked to dismiss a case against Airbus, whose A330-200 crashed in the middle of the Atlantic after an icing of the Pitot probes.

On June 1, 2009, an Air France A330, registered F-GZCP, carrying out flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed at sea, killing all 228 people on board. The accident remains the worst Air France has ever suffered, and the deadliest involving an Airbus A330.

The final report of the French Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA), released in 2012, pointed at icing of the Pitot probes and incorrect pilot reactions as the main causes of the crash. As for the criminal investigation, it was concluded on February 18, 2019.

Wreckage of the Air France Airbus A330 (Image: Roberto Maltchik)

Since then, families have been awaiting a trial. On June 4, 2019, the SNPL, Air France’s main pilot union, demanded everyone involved in the crash to be sent to court.

On July 12, 2019, the office of Paris Public Prosecutor required for Air France to be sent to court. It considers that the airline “committed negligence and imprudence” by not providing its pilots with sufficient information on the procedures to be followed, especially after several incidents of the same kind occurred during the preceding months. “This negligence and carelessness are certainly related to the accident, as the pilots, insufficiently informed, felt a strong surprise when the autopilot disconnected and could not have the appropriate reaction,” says the office.

As for Airbus, it should not be prosecuted due to “an absence of sufficient evidence”. This decision is contested by the “Association entraide et solidarité vol AF447”, which represents around 360 family members of the victims. “For years, the builder Airbus has tirelessly tried to forget the obviousness and simplicity of the cause of the disaster: Pitot probes and automatisms,” says the association, adding that no trial “can only comfort Airbus in a feeling of impunity harmful to the safety of all”.

The SNPL also voiced its “incomprehension” of the decision. It claims that Airbus should also be tried, as it failed to recommend proper training to pilots. But the prosecutor dismissed the manufacturer’s responsibility as the documentation of Airbus had been validated by the authorities. “To fully understand what it is, it is as if Boeing was relieved of all liability in the 737 MAX accidents on the grounds that the FAA had certified the aircraft,” says the union.

While Air France said it was already preparing its defense, the investigating judges of the Paris court will now decide to follow or not the requisitions of the Public Prosecutor’s office.

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