Rio-Paris jet crash probe 'discredited': relatives

3rd August 2011, Comments 1 comment

Victims' relatives and a pilots' union on Tuesday said they had lost faith in a probe into the 2009 crash of an Air France jet that killed 228 people, alleging it sought to clear Airbus of responsibility.

The latest twist in the enquiry into why the Airbus A330 plunged into the Atlantic en route from Rio to Paris came after French media reported that the body leading the probe had withdrawn a recommendation to change stall alarms.

Instead, the French air accident investigation authority BEA on Friday released an interim report into the June 1, 2009 crash in which it said that the pilots were not trained to handle the jet when it stalled in rough weather.

The BEA recommended "the regulatory authorities re-examine the content of training (for pilots) and in particular make mandatory the creation of regular specific exercises aimed at manual airplane handling" in the event of a stall.

Air France immediately defended its pilots, saying the stall alarm had malfunctioned, while victims' families and pilots said the dropped recommendation showed the probe was apparently aimed at absolving Airbus.

Robert Soulas, head of a victims' relatives support group, said that "this sad episode definitively discredits the technical probe (and) creates an unprecedented crisis of confidence with the enquiry's authorities."

"The haste with which these authorities and these officials accused the pilots without any forethought aroused our suspicions," he said in a statement.

"We now have confirmation that the affirmations coming from the BEA were not only premature, (but) lacking any objectivity, partial and very oriented towards the defence of Airbus."

The National Airline Pilots Union (SNPL) said it wanted to suspend its involvement in the enquiry, fearing it would "turn into a simple charge sheet against the crew."

The union said in a statement that its faith in the BEA was "seriously damaged."

The BEA confirmed that it had been mulling a recommendation concerning stall alarms but had left it out as it wanted to investigate further. The BEA is to publish its final report in 2012.

Air France and Airbus are being investigated for alleged manslaughter in connection with the crash, notably because of malfunctioning speed sensors known as Pitots.

The airline replaced the Pitots, manufactured by French company Thales, on its Airbus planes with a newer model after the crash.

Victims' families have previously alleged that the involvement of big French corporations such as Airbus and Air France was influencing the affair.

© 2011 AFP

1 Comment To This Article

  • mossman

    on 4th August 2011, 17:18:08 - Reply

    The BEA were perfectly correct to remove a biased and non-technical recommendation inserted by Air France and the pilots' union purely for the political purpose of shifting blame from pilot error to the manufacturer!

    Asserting blame falls outside the remit of this interim report, which is only supposed to analyse the course of events and provide recommendations to prevent similar events from occurring in future. The report as published does exactly that. It is clear from the report that an unusual set of circumstances combined with lack of training and some errors of judgement on the part of the crew caused them to become confused and actually put the aircraft in danger by their own actions.

    Their confusion was exacerbated by the fact that the stall warning, which warns of *impending* stall but stops when the aircraft is actually *in* stall. The contentious recommendation was to change this behaviour, but:

    - the aircraft detects impending stall from air data *which it can not measure while actually in a stall*

    - to have the aircraft "guess" that it's still in a stall and continue to sound when it doesn't actually *know* it's in a stall is adding a layer of logic and complexity which runs counter to how such systems should be designed (possibly leading to dangerous false warnings or lack of warnings in other circumstances).

    My guess is that someone on the BEA team realised that such a recommendation was neither in the spirit of the report nor technically a wise choice without further discussion and, correctly, had it removed from the final draft. Of course, that meant that the pilots' union and Air France lost the headline-grabbing sound-bite they wanted to quote so they could lay fault in the design of the aircraft!

    But I imagine a more balanced discussion of alarm systems design might be found in the final accident report when that is published in some months' time...