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Fri, Oct 14, 2022

Airbus and Air France Go To Court over 2009 Crash

Victim's Families See Manslaughter Charges Levied Against Companies for Fatal Incident

A longstanding effort to bring Airbus and Air France to court over the deaths of 228 victims aboard a Rio de Janeiro to Paris flight in 2009 have borne fruit, with the company heads present in a French courthouse to see their firms charged with involuntary manslaughter.

If convicted, the companies will face a fine of $225,000 euros each, a pittance in monetary terms for such corporations but a loss of face nonetheless. Families of the victims have received previous compensation for their loss, but have insisted on seeing the trial through despite years of denials through the legal process. One of the plaintiffs said that the very presence of the companies in court was a "great victory" following "years of ups and downs".  

Both Airbus and Air France maintain that no criminal mistakes were made and that AF447 was a case of pilot error. The flight crashed on June 1st, 2009, when an Airbus A330 was caught in a thunderstorm that began a chain of events that eventually led to the plane crashing into the Atlantic between Brazil and West Africa. Investigation determined that pitot static icing resulted in inaccurate airspeed indications that quickly disconnected the autopilot before igniting a flurry of activity on the flight deck. The pilots attempted to recover and diagnose the issues but ultimately stalled the aircraft before free falling into the sea.  None aboard survived. 

The trial itself is expected to be a highly technical affair, with an expensive procession of experts expected to delve into myriad aspects of flight safety, technical knowledge, and procedural outcomes while the jury assesses the level of guilt between the two companies. For its part, Air France is accused of insufficiently training its pilots, choosing to employ aviators with insufficient know-how in diagnosing and reacting to inaccurate pitot data. 

Airbus stands accused of underestimating previous malfunctions in a similar vein. Prior to the accident, other A330s had proven faulty in a similar manner, ultimately resulting in a fleetwide redesign and replacement after the accident. Until now, French courts have sided with aviation authorities in the country, believing that the crash was primarily caused by pilot error. Intervention on the part of pilot unions, plaintiffs, and prosecutors prevailed in 2021 when the court overruled the previous decision, ordering Airbus and Air France to stand trial. 



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