French press quick to point finger at AF447 pilots
Le Figaro, one of the major newspapers in France, is running a story that says Airbus has no cause for concern from an initial look at the data extracted from the flight data recorder retrieved from the wreckage of Air France flight AF447.
The report infers that the accident was caused by actions taken by the pilots.
It says the task of the BEA, the French accident investigator, is now to find out what happened in the cockpit, and that whether any errors are the legal responsibility of the pilots or Air France.
(In aviation law and international convention the answer is clear. Air France is responsible for its operational standards and compliance with safety procedures and thus the actions of its pilots.)
All 228 people on board the Air France Airbus A330-200 which was flying between Rio de Janeiro and Paris died when it crashed in the mid Atlantic on June 1, 2009.
Because of various earlier hints from the accident investigator the Le Figaro report cannot be readily dismissed as an unseemly dash to preempt any blame being attached to Airbus, and its reference to sources in government and the BEA leave out, perhaps too obviously, the other body with an intimate knowledge of the accident, which is the public prosecutor’s office, which is contemplating bringing involuntary manslaughter charges against senior management figures in Airbus and Air France.
The BEA’s first press conference after the crash referred to a known problem with ice forming in the external speed measuring devices called pitots that were fitted to the A330 as being one of the factors in the accident, but not its main cause.
That gave rise to a number of questions which neither Air France nor the BEA have as yet answered as to whether AF447 was flown directly through a towering tropical thunderstorm instead of around it, and whether it is known if its weather radar was operational at the time of the crash.
However automated status messages being transmitted by what is known as the ACARS system to the Air France operational base did show that the jet’s autopilot had disconnected at about the time the pitots failed, depriving its control systems of reliable airspeed readings.
There have been at least 13 closely studied incidents like this with A330s up until the time of the crash, all of which were transitory in duration and were followed by a resumption of normal flight.
Since the accident Air France has conducted an independent review of its safety culture but has refused to disclose the major findings other than to say they had been accepted.