French Pilots’ Union Pulls Out of AF447 Accident Investigation

 - August 8, 2011, 9:20 AM
Air France and pilots' union SNPL both feel that an interim report into the mid-Atlantic crash of one of the airline’s A330-200s placed undue emphasis on alleged flight crew errors. The union has withdrawn its involvement in ongoing investigations in protest. (Photo: Airbus)

The French pilots’ union, SNPL, has withdrawn its participation in the ongoing investigation of Air France Flight 447 (AF447), the Airbus A330-200 that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean while en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in June 2009. The union is protesting the fact that the third interim report by the Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses (BEA) agency excluded evidence highlighting the role played by the aircraft’s stall-warning systems in the accident.

SNPL argues that the report, published on July 29, unfairly focuses blame on the three Air France pilots who died along with 225 passengers and cabin crew when AF447 crashed into the ocean. Stating that its “confidence in the BEA is seriously eroded,” the union withdrew its representative from the investigation team, until the agency explains why it excluded consideration of the stall-warning systems and associated recommendations for necessary modifications to those and other aircraft systems.

“Pilots aren’t fleeing from their responsibility,” said SNPL president Yves Deshayes in a radio interview, “but they won’t accept that this investigation turns into a simple indictment of the flight crew.”

The BEA has acknowledged that it opted not to include recommendations regarding the A330’s stall-warning system in its third interim report. It characterized any such finding as “premature at this stage of the investigation” and said that it intends to deal with the issue in a subsequent report, based on further input from a special working group. The agency has also pledged to consider how pilots interact with automated flight control systems.

Meanwhile a group representing victims of the A330 accident, called Entraide et Solidarité AF447, has also criticized the latest BEA report, arguing that it sought to attribute most of the blame to the deceased pilots, instead of addressing alleged technical flaws in the aircraft. The group’s president, Robert Soulas, told the French press that the third interim report “definitely discredits the investigation,” which he suggested has become biased and inclined to spare Airbus from blame.

Both Air France and Airbus stand subject to formal criminal investigation, but prosecutors have yet to indicate whether they will press corporate manslaughter charges. In a brief statement given in response to the latest BEA interim report, Air France indicated that it is premature to call into question the crew’s technical skills.

The BEA expects to issue its final report in the fall.