The pilots in control of an Air France plane that crashed off the coast of Brazil in 2009 lacked adequate training, according to the French air accident investigator’s latest report.
France’s BEA authority said the crew did not appear to know that their plane was in a stall, despite a stall alarm sounding for nearly one minute before the crash.
“There was no explicit task-sharing between the two co-pilots [in control],” the BEA’s report read. “Neither of the pilots made any reference to the stall warning.”
It has been more than two years since the Air France A330 jet crashed into the Atlantic Ocean en route from Rio to Paris, killing all 228 passengers on board.
Air France rejected the BEA’s findings today. A statement said: “At this stage, there is no reason to question the crew’s technical skills.”
The airline added: “The misleading stopping and starting of the stall warning alarm, contradicting the actual state of the aircraft, greatly contributed to the crew’s difficulty in analysing the situation.”
The BEA’s latest interim report is based on analysis of the flight data recorders – recovered from the wreckage site in the Atlantic over two months ago – which provide a clearer picture of the circumstances leading up to the crash.
According to a summary of its latest findings, the crew had also failed to make passengers aware of what was happening when the aircraft was in trouble.
An earlier report into the crash revealed that the more experienced pilot was off-duty at the time and taking a rest-break outside the cockpit, leaving the two, less-experienced co-pilots in charge.
The report also confirmed the BEA’s initial findings that defective air speed detectors – or ‘pitot tubes’– led to inconsistent air speed readings and the autopilot to disengage.
When stall warnings sounded, the flight crew, forced to fly the plane manually, did not follow text-book procedures and pointed the plane’s nose upwards, instead of downwards, putting the plane into an irrecoverable stall, an earlier report concluded.
Since the accident, Air France has replaced the speed sensors on all its A330 and A340 aircraft.
BEA recommends mandatory training for pilots
The BEA has issued 10 new safety recommendations to airlines in response to the report, including mandatory training for all pilots in France to ensure they can handle a high-altitude stall.
Air France said these recommendations “were already implemented or will be implemented as soon as possible.”
The BEA’s findings do not attribute blame for the disaster. But both Air France and plane maker Airbus could face legal action based on the report’s findings.
The British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) said questions still had to be answered.
Dr Rob Hunter, BALPA’s Head of Safety and Security, said: ‘Today’s report confirms the cold facts about the aircraft’s last moments which led to this tragic crash. An even bigger tragedy will be if this investigation descends into a blame-game and the lessons are not fully learned.
“The pilots were flying an advanced and highly automated aircraft – an Airbus A330. As far back as 1996 Dr Kathy Abbott of the USA’s Federal Aviation Administration raised concerns about the difficulties pilots can have in flying such aircraft. It is a matter of deep concern to us that the industry has not yet fully addressed her report’s recommendations.”
Read the BEA’s safety recommendations here