French Accident Investigators Find Hole in EU Regs, Raise Ire of Air New Zealand

 - February 27, 2009, 8:37 AM

This week’s interim report by France’s Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses (BEA) on the November 27 crash of an XL Airways-operated A320 off the coast of France recommends that the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) detail in operations regulations the types of non-revenue flights operators may perform and require precise description of such flights in aircraft operations manuals. Meanwhile, the BEA recommends that all such flights “be subject to an authorization, or a declaration by the operator.” All seven occupants died in the crash of the A320 in question, which performed a planned go-around after approaching Perpignan airport and shortly afterward “during...flight at low speed, the crew lost control [and] crashed into the sea,” said the BEA. Owned by Air New Zealand and leased to XL Airways Germany, the A320 had just undergone repainting and minor maintenance in preparation for return to service with ANZ.

The lease specified in-flight checks via mutually agreed procedures based on Airbus customer-acceptance practice. EU-OPS regulations do not cover such operations and the BEA has found no suggested procedures for such non-revenue or “acceptance” flights. “No documents detail constraints to be imposed or the [pilot] skills required,” said the agency. Operators must define the [test flight] program and operational conditions “without necessarily having evaluated the specific risks.”

Separately, Air New Zealand has gone public with complaints about the BEA’s release of the interim report to the media before it had chance to analyze its contents. “Certainly I believe that Air New Zealand and its experts should be allowed to contribute their insights and knowledge into the BEA investigation, a fact I will be raising again with the BEA and New Zealand Transport Accident Investigation Commission [TAIC] as well as New Zealand Transport Minister Steven Joyce later this morning [Feburary 26],” said Air New Zealand CEO Rob Fyfe. “It disappoints me the BEA chose to release their report to media, under embargo, half a day before the report was made available to Air New Zealand and the families who lost their loved ones.”

However, an ICAO official told AIN that Annex 13 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation does not require the BEA to include Air New Zealand as a party to the investigation because XL Airways Germany, not ANZ, technically was operating the flight.

Nevertheless, the BEA has since appointed a pilot expert investigator from the New Zealand Air Line Pilots Association (NZALPA) to join the investigation team. “This gives us greater confidence in the accident investigation process under way,” said the NZALPA, which earlier complained that the interim report raised “a number of technical issues” that it failed to adequately explain.