Air France & Airbus to Stand Trial Over Fatal 2009 A330 Crash

Air france Airbus A330 F-GZCP prior to its fatal crash in 2009.
A330 F-GZCP Pawel Kierzkowski, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

LONDON – Air France and aircraft manufacturer Airbus will face court proceedings in Paris on Monday, over the fatal crash of an Airbus A330 in 2009 which claimed the lives of all 228 persons on board.

The two respondents face charges of involuntary manslaughter, and the trial will focus on allegations of inadequate pilot training and a defective speed monitoring probe.

Air France Flight AF 477

Air France Flight AF 477 was a scheduled passenger flight operating from Rio de Janeiro Galeão international Airport (GIG), Brazil, to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG), France.

On 1 June 2009, the Airbus A330-203 (MSN: 660, registration F-GZCP) operating on the flight entered a high altitude aerodynamic stall. The pilots failed to initiate the correct recovery action, and the aircraft subsequently crashing into the Atlantic Ocean at 02:14 UTC, killing all 228 passengers and crew on board.

Brazilian Navy assets were the first to recover major wreckage, including two bodies, from the crash site five days of the accident.

Photo: Brazilian Navy Commander Giucemar Tabosa Cardoso shows a satellite picture with the location of the wreckage of the Air France’s Airbus A330-203. Photo Credit: Valter Campanato/ABr, CC BY 3.0 BR, via Wikimedia Commons.

The investigation by France’s Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) was hampered because the aircraft’s flight recorders were not recovered from the ocean floor until almost two years later, in May 2011.

The BEA’s final report, released in July 2012, concluded that the aircraft suffered temporary inconsistencies between the airspeed measurements. This was likely caused ice crystals obstructing the aircraft’s pitot tube.

This caused the autopilot to disconnect, after which the crew reacted incorrectly and ultimately caused the aircraft to enter the aerodynamic stall, from which it did not recover.

The accident is the deadliest in the history of Air France, as well as the deadliest aviation accident involving the Airbus A330.

Photo Credit: Foto: Roberto Maltchik Repórter da TV Brasil, CC BY 3.0 BR, via Wikimedia Commons

At the time of the crash, the A330 F-GZCP was the newest Airbus A330 in Air France’s fleet, being just 4 years old with an accrued flight time of 18,870 flight hours. The aircraft had undergone a major overhaul in April 2009, just two months before the fatal accident.

When the autopilot had disengaged in cruising flight, the Pilot Flying had overcontrolled and abruptly and unnecessarily raised the nose of the aircraft and it subsequently entered an aerodynamic stall.

Air France and Airbus denied any criminal negligence in the accident and the findings attributed the cause of the crash to human error. The families of victims took the case to an appeals court, which found in 2021 that there was sufficient evidence to proceed with a trial.

The standpoint of both Air France and Airbus remains that they were not criminally negligent in the accident. They each face a maximum fine of 225,000 euros ($220,000), and court proceedings are to commence on Monday.

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