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Air France and Airbus face angry families in AF447 crash trial

Air France and Airbus face angry families in AF447 crash trial
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PARIS, Oct 10 (Reuters) – A French criminal court has opened the historic Air France manslaughter trial. (AIRF.PA) and aircraft manufacturer Airbus (AIR.PA) on Monday, with angry relatives demanding justice 13 years after an A330 plane crashed into the Atlantic, killing everyone on board.

The heads of both companies have pleaded not guilty to “involuntary manslaughter” after officials read the names of the 228 people who died when the AF447 plunged into darkness during an equatorial storm en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on March 1. June 2009.

Several relatives shouted protests as Air France’s first CEO, Anne Rigail, and later Airbus CEO, Guillaume Faury, expressed their condolences during opening statements, with the latter’s comments prompting cries of “shame” and “shame.” too little, too late.”

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“We have been waiting for this day for thirteen years and we have prepared for a long time,” Daniele Lamy, who lost her son in the accident, told Reuters before the hearing.

After a two-year search for the A330 black boxes using remote submarines, investigators found that the pilots had clumsily responded to a problem involving frozen speed sensors and free-falled without responding to “lock” alerts. .

But France’s BEA accident agency also revealed earlier talks between Air France and Airbus about growing problems with external “pitot probes” that generate speed readings.

Summarizing the prosecution’s findings, a Paris judge said Airbus was suspected of reacting too slowly to the rising number of speeding incidents with the introduction of an updated investigation.

Meanwhile, preliminary findings had called into question the airline’s efforts to ensure pilots were well-trained.

The relative roles of pilot and sensor will be key to the Testexposing the bitter divisions that have raged behind the scenes between two of France’s iconic firms for more than a decade.

Airbus blames pilot error for the crash, while the French airline says alarms and confusing data overwhelmed pilots.

Lawyers warned against allowing the long-awaited trial, which continues after a decision to drop the case was overturned, to sideline family members of the 33 nationalities represented in AF447, mainly French, Brazilian and German.

“It is a trial where the victims must remain at the center of the debate. We don’t want Airbus or Air France to turn this trial into a conference of engineers,” said lawyer Sebastien Busy.

It is the first time that French companies have gone to trial for “involuntary manslaughter” following a plane crash. Victims’ families say individual administrators should also be in the dock.

Relatives also downplayed the maximum fine of 225,000 euros ($220,612) that each company could receive, equivalent to just two minutes of revenue before COVID-19 for Airbus or five minutes of passenger revenue for the airline. Larger, undisclosed sums have also been made in compensation or out-of-court settlements.

“It is not the 225,000 euros that will concern them. It is their reputation… that is what is at stake (Air France and Airbus),” said family lawyer Alain Jakubowicz.

“For us it’s about something else, the truth … and ensuring that lessons are learned from all these major catastrophes. This trial is about restoring a human dimension,” he said.

The nine-week trial at the Paris Criminal Court will run until December 8.

TRAINING AND SYSTEMS IN FOCUS

AF447 sparked a rethink of training and technology and is considered one of the few accidents that changed aviation, including industry-wide improvements to regain lost control.

Center stage is the mystery of why the crew of three, with more than 20,000 hours of flying experience between them, failed to understand that their modern aircraft had lost lift or “stalled.”

That required the basic maneuver of pushing the nose down instead of pulling it up as they did for much of the fatal four-minute plunge into the Atlantic into a radar dead zone.

France’s BEA has said the crew responded incorrectly to the icing problem, but also did not have the necessary training to fly manually at high altitudes after the autopilot disengaged.

It also highlighted inconsistent signals from a display called a flight director, which has since been redesigned to turn off in such events to avoid confusion.

“It will be a difficult trial and we are here to offer compassion… but also our contribution to truth and understanding,” Airbus Chief Executive Faury told reporters.

Rigail expressed “the deepest sympathy” after telling the court that Air France would never forget its worst accident.

Lamenting the loss of his daughter on AF447, retired German executive Bernd Gans likened the accident, with its focus on humans versus machines, to a recent safety crisis over the Boeing Co.’s 737 MAX

“They changed the world and the public’s view of these big companies and (regulatory) agencies, who have great power but should use it,” he said.

“They cannot restore confidence with such statements.”

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Information from Tim Hepher; Edited by Kirsten Donovan

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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