News issued in AinOnline, written by Charles Alcock. It is copied by its website and with its permission.
The Paris Criminal Court this week started hearing a potential landmark case in which Airbus and Air France stand accused of involuntary manslaughter for the deaths of 228 passengers and crew aboard an A330 that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean en route from Rio de Janeiro to the French capital on June 1, 2009. At opening proceedings on Monday afternoon for a case expected to run into early December, Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury and his Air France counterpart Anne Rigail both entered not-guilty pleas on behalf of their organizations.
The criminal proceedings into who is to blame for the loss of flight AF447 have begun just over ten years after France’s BEA accident investigation agency issued its final report. Its conclusions mainly focused on how the A330’s pilot had repeatedly tried to get the aircraft to pitch up, based on incorrect air speed data due to frozen pitot probes and confusing stall alert cockpit warnings.
The judge’s summary of the prosecution case centered on suggestions that Airbus did not react adequately or quickly enough to repeated reports of problems with the pitot probes that collect airspeed data. The BEA investigation had confirmed previous discussions between Airbus and Air France on the issue, while also highlighting an apparent failure by pilots to initiate unreliable indicated airspeed procedures and confusion about the functioning of the autopilot. Essentially, the AF447 flight crew, who collectively had more than 20,000 flight hours of experience, had not grasped that the A330 had stalled.
The case seems likely to weigh allegations of technical failings in the A330 design against crew errors and possible shortcomings in training and operational procedures. If found guilty, Airbus and Air France each face possible fines of €225,000 ($220,000), which representatives of bereaved families have dismissed as inadequate while complaining about what they view as an excessively long wait for justice.