For an account of appalling flight safety standards in a major airline, a French air safety agency (BEA) report into a seriously botched approach to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport by an Air France A340 a year ago today is hard to beat.
A lay translation as to what happened would be that the crew persisted in making an unstable and excessively high and steep descent toward landing which caused the aircraft at one stage to risk stalling as the nose pitched up in an excessively steep attitude while the speed fell away.
Had you been either inside this airliner, or watching from anywhere near the airport, you would have feared for your life or the lives of those on board. Unlike many of the breathless aviation scare stories that make it in the general media, this one would have been a genuine “I thought I was going to die” story.
This is a an Air France A340 dropping at 3300 feet per minute toward the ground at Charles de Gaulle airport at low altitude while the nose pitches up to an angle of attack of 26 degrees and the speed drops to 130 knots, which is so close to drop dead stalling its close to unbelievable.
The pilots are totally surprised by a situation they screwed up, flying for an airline which has one of the bloodiest histories in civil aviation, criminal acts such as bombings excluded.
And it happens 33 months after it lost an A330-200, performing AF447, between Rio and Paris, itself one of the most inexcusable stuff ups in the jet age, considering that the pilots were it seems at critical moments, disinterested in following the procedures set down to deal with transient air speed data loss because of ice up external measuring devices called pitots.
There is no excuse for such a situation to have arisen. The report makes a lame attempt to put part of the blame on the controllers in the CDG tower, but the inescapable truth for Air France is that it is responsible for the flying culture and safety standards of its pilots and that this flight tells us this airline has hadn’t found in 2012 the plot it lost in 2009 when AF447 went down.
Putting aside the appalling implications for Air France of this particular exercise in unprofessional flying and crap flight safety standards, there is a broader issue here. The EU has a black list of banned foreign airlines, which included most Indonesia flag carriers between 2007-2009 and the Philippines until recently.
No reasonable person would argue against those bans in most cases, except that the EU has never taken any action against Air France, and there are a series of incidents and one recent fatal accident that reflect extremely poorly on the French carrier.
Having seen quite a bit of the chauvinistic, pompous and self serving posturing about foreign airlines in general in the European media, it is very much like the dog whistling that goes on in Australian politics, with generalised slurs against ‘people not like us.’
It is quite dishonest. If Europe is going to go about banning non EU carriers as unsafe, and even making a point of naming airlines that have neither the equipment, traffic rights nor inclination or resources to fly to Europe, it needs to address any unsafe carriers in its midst.
A starting point would be to insist that the French safety investigator, the BEA, reverse its refusal to release the full transcript of what was said between the three pilots in the cockpit of AF447 .
The concerns being expressed in some very main stream circles as to what happened in the cockpit of AF447 may prove baseless. Yet the peculiarities of the official report, which opens a narrative about human issues starting with the captain appointing the less experienced first officer as the pilot in command while he took a rest break, but then backs away from developing that part of its analysis, continues to encourage the speculations about pilots who may have detested each other more than they cared, until too late, about recovering control that was lost in a high altitude stall.
The full story needs to be told. This latest incident makes it the more pressing.