AF447: third status report by French accident investigation body

   The French aviation accident investigation authority (the “BEA”) issued today its third investigation status report in the deadly crash of the Rio to Paris Air France flight AF447.  The fatal accident occurred on June 1, 2009, as the long-haul Airbus 330-203 was crossing the Atlantic on its way to Paris. There were no survivors.

   The third status report by the BEA results from its analysis so far of the aircraft’s CVR and FDR recently recovered from the ocean’s floor after a lengthy search mission of the crash area in unusually deep waters.

   The BEA status report dated today can be read here.

   Keeping in mind that today’s report is still an interim one, indications so far point to the following partial observations:

– the crash may have been averted but for pilot error

– insufficient cockpit crew management procedures by the two copilots (the First Officer and a back-up pilot) while the Captain was resting outside the cockpit;

– Pitot icing + faulty IAS response procedures not initiated by flight crew for lack of company training

– so far unexplained erratic manual flight control inputs by the flying pilot prior to stall and during stall

– temporary invalid airspeed readouts caused by faulty on-board equipment, which may have confused the flight crew

– so far unexplained nose-up trim to 13 degrees maintained during stall until contact with ocean

– all 3 pilots (Captain back in the cockpit) failed to identify symptoms of stall and to heed system warnings of stall

– flight crew likely unaware of excessive angle of attack owing to possible improper on-board system design

   As the day unfolds, numerous English-language aviation websites are analyzing the BEA’s third investigation status report. See, for example: Aviation Brief and Flight Global.

   The BEA status report issued today does not ascribe legal blame nor will its final report. The BEA’s role  is to make neutral and expert findings on the cause and contributing factors of the crash to prevent similar accidents from reoccurring.

   However, it can be readily seen that a number of entities are involved in some way or another in the crash: Air France for possible lack of flight crew training and for not issuing special procedures; EADS (Airbus Industries) for possible design flaws of the A-330 flight control systems; flight crew members (all three died in the crash) for aircraft operating errors; Pitot tubes manufacturer for design fault and Air France for not responding to previous instances Pitot tube malfunction.

   One can expect a strong response from airline pilots’ unions against findings of pilot error.

   The crash of AF447 will lead to both criminal and civil proceedings, some of which are already underway.


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