AF447-families´ lawyer confident Airbus will be tried in court by 2018.

Tom Dieusaert
May 31, 2017 · 4 min read
Brazilian Air Forces locates the fin of AF447 on June 7, 2009

Exactly 8 years ago, the Air France Flight 447 from Rio to Paris crashed in the Atlantic Ocean leaving 228 people dead. Although most of the families of the victims have been compensated financially for their incalculable loss, the families haven’t obtained what they most sought for: Truth and justice.

All families are convinced that the crash was due to serious malfunctions with the Airbus 330’s computers and was not to blame on the actions of the pilots, as earlier investigative reports (as the one of the French Bureau for Aviation Accidents, BEA) suggested.

Sébastien Busy, a French lawyer who represents the French victims association (Entreaide Victimes Af447) and more than 50 individual families, says the judicial investigation which started in June 2009 is drawing to a close. “The original expertise in the investigation which seriously compromised both Airbus and Boeing was published in 2012 and this was contested by the defendants, who asked for a counter-expertise.”

Busy clarifies that the criminal investigation is a previous step for a possible trial before a lower criminal court in France (so-called Tribunal Correctionnel), where both aircraft constructor Airbus and airline Air France, could be condemned for involuntary manslaughter. This whole process took already eight years. “The problem was that the counter-expertise was annulled for procedural reasons in November 2015 and so the whole thing started again. The new counter-expertise is expected to be finished by September 2017.”

Sébastien Busy of ACG lawfirm in Reims (France)

Sébastien Busy is confident things will go fast from there: “The counter-expertise probably will probably focus on the pilot’s faults, then there will be some mutual observations from both claimants and defendants, but I am confident the expertise makes a strong case, especially against Airbus: There was a fault with the pitot tubes and this unchained all of the other events in the cockpit, which had to do with faulty alarms, failures and confusing information on the pilots’ displays.”

According to Busy the original expertise is strong enough in that respect so that the Judge will order a trial. “From that decision on we have to count some 6 months for preparing the trial, which itself can take something like 4 months.” So the trial is much shorter than the investigation? “Indeed,” says Busy who takes the trial of the Concorde which happened in 2000 and was tried ten years later, as an example. “When we get to trial — I guess around the end of 2018, beginning of 2019 the latest — most facts will be already investigated.”

Sébastien Busy is quite certain that both Airbus and Air France will be condemned in court and that the pilots will be exonerated.

“A recent investigation showed that the pilots could only have saved the plane in the first 23 seconds after the pitot tubes froze.” “There have been numerous incidents before and after AF447 with frozen pitot tubes on the Airbus 330. Those did not lead to fatal accidents, because there were some important differences: The pitot tubes froze for much less time, maybe seconds. Also these other incidents happened in broad daylight, not at night, as on the flight Rio-Paris. And all of the other pilots, admitted they did not apply the standard Airbus procedure for Unreliable Airspeed.” “Because for the pilots the airspeed in those cases was not unreliable or doubtful. It was clearly the wrong airspeed, they received on their instruments after the pitots blockage.”

Instruments of an Airbus 340 (photo Juan Venancio Ozino Caligaris)

For Busy, the proof against Airbus that something was wrong with their aircrafts and their training is beyond doubt: “Airbus changed its anti-stall training after the accident, by which it admitted their training was wrong.”

Flight 447 also exposed other anomalies on the Airbus 330, such as the faulty stall alarm. “On the Airbus 330 the stall alarm is inhibited below 60 knots, because Airbus (wrongly) assumed that the plane could not fly below 60 knots.”

What would be the effect of a conviction of Airbus? “Well first, this would open the possibilities for the civil parties involved to get compensation. But most of all, this would be an important signal to the aeronautical industry not to leave everything in the hands of the computers and hand back some of the control to the pilots.”

Crash Investigators

Articles by Journalist Tom Dieusaert on Aviation Accidents

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