Flight AF447 Rio-Paris: Airbus, Air France sent back to court

Pawel Kierzkowski

The Court of Appeal of Paris ordered that Air France and Airbus must be tried for involuntary manslaughter over the Rio-Paris flight AF447 crash which killed 228 people in 2009. 

This decision followed a demand from the General Prosecutor of Paris made on January 27, 2021. It invalidates the dismissal pronounced by the investigating judges in 2019 in favor of the airline and the manufacturer. 

“It is an immense satisfaction to have the feeling of having finally been heard by the courts “, declared to AFP Danièle Lamy, the president of the main association of relatives of victims, the ‘Association entraide et solidarité vol AF447’.

Following the judgment, Airbus lawyers immediately announced they would appeal, denouncing an “unjustified decision.” As for Air France, it denied “having committed a criminal fault which is at the origin of this terrible accident,” maintained its lawyer.

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

What happened?

On June 1, 2009, an Air France A330, registered F-GZCP, carrying out flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, 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. “The obstruction of the Pitot probes by ice crystals during cruise was a phenomenon that was known but misunderstood by the aviation community at the time of the accident,” the BEA concluded. “The combination of the ergonomics of the warning design, the conditions in which airline pilots are trained and exposed to stalls during their professional training and the process of recurrent training does not generate the expected behavior in any acceptable reliable way.”

A decade of uncertainty

In July 2019, the Public Prosecutor’s office had requested Air France to face trial alone and dismissed the case against Airbus. The prosecutor considered 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,” said the office.

In September 2019, the investigating judges ended up dropping all prosecution. “This accident is obviously due to a conjunction of elements that never occurred, and thus highlighted dangers that could not be perceived before this accident,” they concluded.

Following the dismissal, ‘Association entraide et solidarité vol AF447’ appealed the judgment, which it said “insulted the memory of victims.” The association had already contested the decision of the Public Prosecutor’s office, stating that no trial “can only comfort Airbus in a feeling of impunity harmful to the safety of all”.

The Syndicat National des Pilotes de Ligne (SNPL), Air France’s main pilot union, had also demanded that everyone involved in the crash be sent to court. “It is important for us that the whole truth is made about the circumstances of the accident and that all responsibilities are highlighted by the judges,” he said in a press release, adding that “to do this, it seems essential to us that all the parts in the case, without exception, be referred to the Criminal Court,” Vincent Gilles, Vice-President of the SNPL, said at the time.


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