As Trial Begins on Fatal Flight 447, a Big First in France

Air France and Airbus are first French companies to face trial there after a plane crash
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 10, 2022 6:54 AM CDT
At Center of Air France Trial, the Final Minutes of Flight 447
Debris from missing Air France Flight 447 is put on display for the media after being recovered during search operations, at Recife's air force base in Brazil on June 12, 2009.   (AP Photo/Roberto Candia, File)

Thirteen years after Air France Flight 447 plunged into the Atlantic Ocean during its journey from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, a nine-week manslaughter trial is finally beginning. Reuters reports that the trial starting Monday in the French capital is the first time that companies in that nation have faced trial after an airplane crash rather than individuals, though some families of the 228 victims who perished on June 1, 2009, say that company managers should also be held responsible. It was an accident that's said to have changed the aviation industry and led to a series of changes on pilot training, safety regulations, and the use of airspeed sensors, per the Guardian.

The plane went down during an equatorial storm, in which ice crystals mucked up the aircraft's speed sensors, which kept pilots in the dark on the plane's speed and altitude and shut down the autopilot feature. "I don't know what's happening," one of the pilots can be heard saying in the flight recordings, which were found after a massive search that took almost two years. Those final minutes will lie at the center of the trial, as will the differences between Air France and plane manufacturer Airbus on what caused the crash. Air France is blaming "confusing displays and alarms," while Airbus points to pilot error.

An AP probe at the time found that Airbus had for several years known about issues with the external sensors that were iced over in the crash, per the news agency. If convicted, the companies face a maximum fine of around $220,000. They've already paid out other sums in civil settlements and other compensation. The Guardian notes, however, that the real damage is what may be done to their reputations if that happens. The airline, meanwhile, insists it should be acquitted of the crimes it's accused of. "Air France ... will continue to demonstrate that it did not commit any criminal negligence that caused this accident," the company said in a statement. Airbus is similarly denying charges of criminal negligence. The trial runs through Dec. 8. (More Air France stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.