More than 13 years after an Air France jet plunged into the Atlantic, killing all 228 people on board, the French carrier and Airbus go on trial in a Paris court next week.
After a two-year search for the A330’s black boxes, French investigators found pilots had mishandled the temporary loss of data from iced-up sensors and pushed the 205-tonne jet into an aerodynamic stall or freefall, without responding to alerts.
But the BEA accident agency also disclosed that Air France had expressed concerns about increased icing incidents before the crash and had started receiving improved speed probes. Experts say the relative roles of pilot or sensor error, as well as erratic displays or fatigue, will be key to the historic trial.
Monday’s opening hearing will mark the first time French companies have been directly placed on trial for “involuntary manslaughter” following an air crash, rather than individuals.
While corporate reputations and a long-awaited catharsis for families are at stake, the nine-week trial is not expected to lead to significant financial penalties. However, experts say larger sums have been paid in compensation or civil settlements.
The maximum fine for either company, if convicted of involuntary manslaughter, is just 225,000 euros ($220,612) or five times the maximum monetary penalty for an individual, who unlike a company can also face jail, according to French legal experts.