Air France and Airbus have both pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter charges in the 2009 crash of an A330 jet that killed all occupants, including three Irish women.
The CEOs of both companies filed the lawsuit after the names of all 228 victims were read out at the Paris Criminal Court, where the historic manslaughter trial opened today.
Families of several of the victims called out protests including “shame” and “too little, too late” as Guillaume Faury, Air France chief executive and then Airbus CEO, offered his condolences in opening speeches of the nine-week trial.
Relatives are demanding justice 13 years after an A330 passenger plane crashed into the Atlantic, killing everyone on board.
Leaders of both companies stood in silence before a Paris judge as officials read out the names of all 228 people who died when AF447 disappeared during an overnight equatorial storm en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on June 1, 2009.
Three Irish Women – Dr. Aisling Butler (26) from Roscrea, Co. Tipperary, Dr. Jane Deasy (27) from Dublin and Dr. Eithne Walls (28) from Co. Down – were among those killed in the crash.
Families representing some of the 33 nationalities on board, mostly French, Brazilian and German, crowded the Paris Criminal Court after a series of legal setbacks.
“We have waited thirteen years for this day and have prepared for it for a long time,” said Daniele Lamy, who lost her son in the worst accident involving the French national airline.
After a two-year search for the A330’s flight recorders using remote submarines, investigators determined that the pilots had clumsily reacted to a problem with iced-up speed sensors and free-falled without responding to “stall” warnings.
But French accident agency BEA also revealed earlier talks between Air France and Airbus over the probes’ reliability and made dozens of safety recommendations from cockpit design to training and search and rescue.
Experts say the relative roles of pilot or sensor error will be key to the process, exposing a battle that has divided France’s aviation elite.
Airbus blames pilot error for the crash, while the airline claims confusing alarms overwhelmed the pilots.
Lawyers warned against allowing the long-awaited trial – which will continue after a decision to drop the case was overturned – to marginalize family members represented on day one.
“It’s a process where the victims must remain at the center of the debate. We don’t want Airbus or Air France to turn this process into a conference of engineers,” said lawyer Sebastien Busy.
It is the first time French companies have been taken to court for “involuntary manslaughter” following a plane crash. Victims’ families say individual managers should also be in the dock.
Relatives have also dismissed the maximum fine of €225,000 any company could receive – equivalent to just two minutes of pre-COVID revenue for Airbus or five minutes of passenger revenue for the airline. Larger sums were also made in undisclosed amounts in compensation or out-of-court settlements.
“It’s not the €225,000 that will worry them. It’s their reputation… that’s at stake (Air France and Airbus),” family lawyer Alain Jakubowicz said.
“For us, it’s about something else, the truth… and learning lessons from all these great disasters. This process is about restoring a human dimension,” he told reporters.
Airbus CEO Guillaume Faury and Air France CEO Anne Rigail took their seats just before the start of the trial, which runs until December 8. Special forces, trained for crash victims, helped relatives while translators handed out headphones.
AF447 sparked a rethink in terms of training and technology and is recognized as one of only a few accidents that transformed aviation, including industry-wide improvements in how loss of control is managed.
The focus is on the mystery of why the crew of three, with more than 20,000 hours of flying experience, failed to understand that their modern jet had lost lift or had “stalled”.
That required the basic maneuver of pushing the nose down rather than pulling it up like they did in a radar dead zone for much of the fatal four-minute plunge toward the Atlantic.
The French BEA said the crew reacted incorrectly to the icing problem but also had no training to fly manually at high altitude after the autopilot failed.
It also highlighted inconsistent signals from a display called the Flight Director, which has since been redesigned to turn itself off during such events to avoid confusion.
Neither company commented before the trial.
https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/families-shout-protests-as-air-france-and-airbus-plead-not-guilty-over-2009-plane-crash-that-killed-three-irish-doctors-42054842.html Families call out protests as Air France and Airbus plead not guilty to the 2009 plane crash that killed three Irish doctors