The phraseology is circumspect, but it is fair to say the French air crash investigator BEA is making it clear Airbus was slow to respond to a known issue with unreliable air speed warnings on its A330s and A340s in the year before Air France flight AF447 crashed killing all 228 people on board in the mid Atlantic on June 1.
The second interim report into that disaster was released overnight, and will no doubt be studied carefully by the public prosecutor’s office in Paris, which is examining the criminal law and liability aspects in so far as persons resident in France were killed in the crash of the flight between Rio de Janeiro and Paris.
The report is available in english and french, with the latter including additional appendices.
While the latest report doesn’t establish exactly why the Airbus A330-200 came to crash, it fills in considerable detail concerning the automated systems status messages sent by AF447 almost until it hit the sea at high speed and discusses 13 other incidents involving A330/A340 airliners with similar elements to those reported from the flight.
The BEA also calls for enhancements to ‘black box’ data and voice recorders to prolong the signals they transmit after a crash and render them generally easier to recover, and notes that the certification requirements of the A330 in relation to the operation of the pitots that measure air speed in icing conditions did not reflect the reality of the conditions that they could encounter.
The report’s discussion of icing conditions in general, and their effect on A330s in particular, needs to be read carefully in full. It refers to an unexplained increase of reports about such problems since 2008 and the possibility that this is a new phenomenon, and also calls for more research into the issue.
In parallel the report details the history of the Airbus and EASA responses to issues with pitots or external speed measuring devices and their unreliability in icing conditions.
The new findings show that among other things that none of the recovered oxygen masks or life jackets had been in use. Autopsies on the 50 identifiable bodies recovered from the sea found injuries consistent with being seated upright at impact.
The report confirms that there is no evidence to support theories that the jet broke apart before impact, no evidence of cabin depressurisation, and no evidence that the jet was spinning or experiencing lateral forces at the moment of impact.
The report makes no specific reference to the status of the weather radar on the airliner, although it does say that it departed Rio de Janeiro with almost all systems working.
AF447 struck the sea very hard while flying straight ahead with little bank. The flaps had not been extended beyond the normal cruise setting.
It includes some disturbing images of the reconstruction of the location of debris from AF447 in a hangar in Toulouse.
Such illustrations should be hung on the wall of any bean counters who think of flight standards and maintenance exclusively in terms of cost savings rather than brand and shareholder value protection.