Air France, Airbus go on trial for involuntary manslaughter over 2009 Rio-Paris crash

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On Monday, two biggest companies in France went on trial over the crash of Air France flight 447 in Paris. The historic trial began more than 13 years after the plane en route from Paris (France) to Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) plunged into the Atlantic Ocean killing 228 passengers and crew. It was the airline’s worst-ever accident, according to reports. 

The hearing opened with the judge reading out the names of all 228 victims that died due to this accident. Following this, the chief executives of both Air France and Airbus pleaded not guilty to the charges of involuntary manslaughter and offered condolences in a French criminal court, on October 10. 

The courtroom was silent when the names were being read out but quickly erupted into anger as the victims’ families present for the trial yelled in protest after the submission of the plea said media reports. increaseitionally, when the company’s chief executives Anne Rigail and Guillaume Faury gave their opening statement and offered condolences, “too little, too late,” said the relatives present. As per reports, the trial will go on for nine weeks. 

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On June 1, 2009, Air France flight AF447 was en route to Rio but disappeared off the radar in the middle of a storm. It took a little over four minutes for the plane to fall 11,500 metres out of the sky. The plane had entered what is called an “intertropical convergence zone” which is said to often produce volatile storms with heavy precipitation.

As per the recordings from the black box that was recovered two years after the crash, the “stall” warning was sounded in the cockpit at least 75 times at the time. Reports indicated that the plane’s speed sensors had been iced up and errors were made when the pilots were disoriented because of this. 

Subsequently, the pilot took manual control and turned off the autopilot but had the wrong navigational data that set off a catastrophic chain of events due to which the plane went into an “aerodynamic stall”, its nose pitched upward and the plane plunged into the ocean, said the reports. 

unkindwhile, both Air France and Airbus have denied the accusations that their negligence had led to the crash and started pointing fingers at each other. The former claims that it was the complicated alarms that confused the pilots, whereas the latter argues that it was the pilots’ fault. The debris of the plane was found floating on the ocean, the day after it disappeared, but it took two years to recover the black box flight data and voice recorders from the seabed. 

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In 2019, a court decided to abandon the case because the investigators were unable to establish who was to blame, however, this ruling was overturned two years later. Therefore, this was the first time the two companies have been directly held accountable for the crash. 

“It’s a trial where the victims must remain at the centre of the debate. We don’t want Airbus or Air France to turn this trial into a conference of engineers,” said Sébastien Busy, a lawyer who is representing the victims in the court to the press. 

Furthermore, the trial will be around one key question, why did the three-person crew with more than 20,000 hours of flying experience between them, could not understand that the plane had lost flight or “stalled” and was not rising but falling? If convicted, each company faces a maximum fine of $220,000. 

As per sources, Air France has been accused of not properly training their pilots in the event of icing of the pilot probes despite knowing the risks. On the other hand, Airbus has been accused of knowing the model that pitot tubes on Flight 447 were faulty and not doing enough to inform airlines and their crew about the issue which would help ensure training to mitigate the risk. 

(With inputs from agencies) 

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