Air France safety under scrutiny ahead of results

19th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

As Air France-KLM prepared to announce expected massive annual losses on Wednesday, a shock book added to the company's problems, attacking the safety record of Europe's biggest airline.

The company was to hold a press conference later in the day at which it was expected to confirm losses of 1.3 billion euros (1.6 billion dollars) between March 2009 and March 2010.

But it was already on the front pages following the publication of "The Hidden Face of Air France", an investigation by journalist Fabrice Amedeo into what he sees as failures in Air France's management culture.

Air France flights have fallen victim to several accidents in recent years and, according to the French daily Liberation, statistics compiled online rank its safety record as only the 65th best in the world.

And, according to a tally compiled by the Swiss-based website "Aircraft Crashes Record Office", with 1,783 fatalities Air France has been the second most deadly airline for passengers, trailing only Russia's Aeroflot.

Germany's Lufthansa, which is of similar size and age, is in 43rd place.

In June last year Air France flight 447 from Rio to Paris broke apart and plunged into the Atlantic with the loss of all 228 people on board.

The cause of the crash has not been officially confirmed, but investigators found that cockpit flight computers were receiving incorrect airspeed readings and Air France has since replaced speed probes on its other jets.

"Air France has a fleet of ultramodern planes, and its pilots are among the best in the world ... but its safety statistics are those of a second division company," writes Amedeo in his book.

"The problem appears not to be technical but cultural," he says, accusing the airline's executives of a "certain laxity" in responding to incidents and adapting their safety procedures.

The company responded to Liberation's account of the book with a statement.

"Air France's safety standards meet the most stringent requirements in the international aviation industry," it said.

"Air France is continuously working on improving flight safety which has always been one of its main priorities."

Air France shares were trading down 1.74 percent on the Paris exchange as markets awaited confirmation of the annual results, which were expected to be the company's worst since its 2004 merger with Dutch carrier KLM.

© 2010 AFP

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