France approved crash airline
PARIS, Jan 5 (AFP) - Flash Airlines, the Egyptian charter operator whose flight to Paris crashed in the Red Sea on Saturday, recently underwent successful tests in France and has a "good reputation," Transport Minister Gilles de Robien said on French radio Monday.
Asked about Switzerland’s decision to ban the company from its airspace in 2002 after it failed a spot check on one of its two planes, de Robien told France Inter that France had since carried out three inspections on Flash Airlines.
The first had revealed a minor problem concerning the signalling of an exit door, but the two subsequent checks “gave rise to no observation and the civil aviation authorities therefore gave permission for the aircraft to fly,” he said.
The Boeing 737-300 came down after take-off from the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh killing 148 people, 133 of them French tourists. It was France’s worst ever air disaster in terms of nationals killed.
The chief executive of the tour operator Fram which chartered the plane confirmed that it had received no intimations of problems at Flash Airlines.
“We have always chosen reliable partners, ones that respected the rules – both international and national – and we would never make our customers take the risk of flying with companies in which we did not have total confidence,” said Georges Colson.
He denied that Fram used Flash Airlines because it allowed it to keep down the price of its package holidays. “We have have always refused to sell our work cut-price, or to seek out the cheapest price by eroding quality and safety,” he said.
France’s newspapers Monday demanded answers as to why Flash Airlines had been allowed to continue flying to France and Italy after the Swiss ban, with many editorialists speculating whether cheap operators were cutting corners in order to attract business.
“At what price mass tourism? To what point can one keep cutting prices without passing the red danger line?” asked France-Soir newspaper. The left-wing Liberation pointed the finger at the “cut-price security offered by some companies often operating under the flag of an exotic, poor country.”
As France dispatched military, scientific and legal experts to help with the recovery and identification of victims, junior transport minister Dominique Bussereau said the evidence suggested the crash was an accident – though he refused to rule out terrorism.
“It resembles … a typical accident on take-off, which is always a difficult phase. Until investigators … have technical information, we can’t make any definitive hypotheses,” he said.
President Jacques Chirac declared his sympathy for victims’ families during a new year’s greeting ceremony for his government in Paris.
“As we meet for the first time this year, I must first express my emotion following the dramatic plane accident which has put our country in mourning, as well as our solidarity with the families and friends,” he said.
Families of those who died will be taken by plane to Sharm el-Sheikh on Wednesday and return to France on Sunday, junior foreign minister Renaud Muselier said.
“Seventy-five families are involved – between 200 and 300 people. They will be able to gather at the scene, overlooking the sea, at a spot that is being determined in concert with the Egyptian authorities,” he said.
Two navy ships have left the French east African base in Djibouti to join the search for victims and wreckage, following the dispatch of a robot submarine and a reconnaissance plane which are already at the scene, military officials said.
A team of six French forensics experts – police and gendarmes – left France on Monday for Egypt to help identify the remains of the 148 victims of a weekend plane crash in the Red Sea.
The experts, who left in a Falcon 50 jet from the Villacoublay air base west of Paris, were expected to arrive in Egypt at about 6:00 pm local time, French military sources said.
Subject: France news