Airbus To Appeal New Charges Stemming from 2009 A330 Crash

 - May 12, 2021, 11:38 AM

Story updated on May 13 to include Air France comments

Airbus said it would appeal a French court’s decision Wednesday to compel both the manufacturer and Air France to stand trial for involuntary manslaughter in connection with the 2009 crash of one of the flag carrier’s A330s over the Atlantic Ocean, which killed all 228 onboard.

In a statement, the Paris Court of Appeals said it has referred the case to a French criminal court, adding that Airbus and Air France can appeal to the Supreme Court.

In a separate statement, Airbus disputed the basis for the reversal of an earlier court decision to drop the case against both defendants.

"The court decision that has just been announced does not reflect in any way the conclusions of the investigation that led to the dismissal of the case in favor of Airbus,” said the manufacturer.

For its part, Air France also said it would appeal the decision. "[Air France] maintains that it did not commit a criminal offense in this tragic accident and will be appealing to the French Court of Cassation," it said. "Air France reconfirms its trust in all its pilots and flight crews, and states that the safety of its customers and staff is its absolute priority."  

The final report by French accident investigation bureau BEA, published on July 5, 2012, noted that the aircraft's pilot might have followed erroneous flight director indications before the autopilot and autothrottle disengaged and the flight control law switched from normal to alternate. Each time the flight director crossbars reappeared after vanishing several times, the pilot pitched the airplane upward as it went into an aerodynamic stall. However, it appeared that neither pilot realized the aircraft had entered a stall and the disappearance and reappearance of the crossbars reinforced their false impression, suggested the report. Investigators found that frozen pitot tubes caused the malfunction.

The BEA report indicated that while the pilots trusted the flight director, they seemed to ignore the stall alarm even though it sounded more than 70 times. However, the BEA also found possible explanations, including their lack of familiarity with the audio alarm due to lack of training. More generally, the BEA referred to shortcomings in their “knowledge of the aircraft and its protection modes.”

According to the BEA, 7.5 to 8.0 seconds elapsed between the sound of the first autopilot disconnect warning and the sound of the first stall warning in the A330. The report also noted that lack of angle-of-attack information, in conjunction with an Airbus design trait that silenced aural stall warnings when the speed decayed below 60 knots, might have confused the crew into believing the aircraft was still flying when it was not.