Air France and Airbus are set to stand trial over an air crash in 2009 that killed all 228 people on board after a French appeals court overturned a previous decision not to push ahead with charges.
Air France flight 447, a twin-engined Airbus A330, crashed into the Atlantic en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on June 1 2009 after the jet stalled during a thunderstorm. It was the deadliest crash in the history of Air France, killing 216 passengers and 12 crew members.
On Wednesday, French judges, said the two groups should stand trial for “involuntary manslaughter”, according to a spokesperson for the appeals court. A date for the trial has not yet been set, said the same person.
Air France and Airbus, one of the world’s largest aeroplane manufacturers, had been put under formal investigation in 2011 for the same charge.
Wednesday’s decision overturns a 2019 ruling against a trial, with the judges at the time blaming human error for the crash, saying the “accident is evidently due to a conjunction of elements that had never occurred before, and thus highlighted dangers that could not have been perceived before this accident”. In 2019, prosecutors had only recommended putting Air France on trial.
“It is an immense satisfaction to have the feeling of having finally been heard by the courts,” said Danièle Lamy, the president of Entraide et Solidarité AF447, the main organisation for relatives of the victims.
“We regret, however, that it took twelve long years to get there,” she added.
Both Airbus and Air France, which is part of group Air France-KLM and 28 per cent owned by the French state, said they would appeal Wednesday’s ruling.
Air France said in a statement that it had “taken note of the decision” and it “maintains that it did not commit any criminal fault in this accident, tragic as it was”.
Airbus said: “The court decision that has been announced does not reflect in any way the conclusions of the investigation that led to the dismissal of the case.”
The long-running case has revolved around how Air France pilots responded to the loss of speed readings after pitot probes, sensors that sit outside the body of the plane, were blocked with ice, which meant the autopilot stopped flying the plane and the pilots took manual control.
Prosecutors have put the blame on Air France for inadequate training of its pilots and Airbus for having “underestimated the seriousness of the failures” of the pitot speed probes, according to Reuters.
A 2012 civil investigation by the BEA, the French air accident investigation office, put emphasis on failure of the pitot probes, the “crew’s failure to diagnose the stall situation and consequently a lack of inputs that would have made it possible to recover from it”, a lack of a clear display of the speed problem in the cockpit and a lack of training.