A few weeks before the start of the trial of Airbus and Air France on the crash of AF447, which killed 228 people in June 2009, the tricolor airline is the subject of several criticisms on flight safety and in particular on the behavior of some pilots. While a minority pilots’ union, Alter, recently sounded the alarm about the “chronic fatigue” of pilots, the Bureau of Investigations and Analysis (BEA) expressed concern in a report published Tuesday of “a certain culture installed in some Air France crews which favors a propensity to underestimate the contribution of a strict application of procedures for safety” and calls on the French airline to “put back the respect of procedures central to the company’s safety culture.
In its report, the French authority responsible for investigating aircraft accidents mentions several incidents in which safety rules were ignored by Air France pilots. For example, during a flight between Brazzaville (Congo) and Paris on December 31, 2020 when a fuel leak detected at altitude led the crew to divert the plane to N’Djamena airport (Chad) but without observe the “FUEL LEAK” safety procedure which provides for the engine to be cut off on the side of the leak.
“A fire avoided by chance”
“The engine cut (…) was deliberately omitted by the crew”, observes the BEA. “This decision thus created a significant risk of fire and led to a significant reduction in the safety margin of the flight, the fire having been avoided by chance”, specifies the report.
While the BEA emphasizes the “extremely limited” number of Air France flights giving rise to investigations, it says it has observed “through a number of recent investigations (…) that the crews concerned had been able (.. .) freedom from carrying out certain procedures in a compliant manner”.
The BEA mentions a double incident on 28 and 30 March 2017 during which the same crew climbed too quickly in flight. On September 12, 2020, an Airbus A318 “exempted operational procedures in order to achieve a rapid arrival on the runway at Paris-Orly”.
“During the final approach, the crew had very few resources to deal with a possible unforeseen event”, insists the BEA.
The flight operations manual challenges the BEA
The investigation office wonders about certain sentences appearing in the Air France pilots’ operations manual such as: “knows how to deviate from the procedures in consultation with the crew when safety requires it” or “improvises in the face of ‘unpredictable to obtain the safest result’.
Air France assured AFP that it would take into account all of the report’s recommendations, adding that some had already been implemented.
The company undertakes, for example, to “provide pilots with tools allowing them to replay and analyze their flights”, as recommended by the BEA.
Air France also states that an audit will be initiated within a few months “within the whole of the company” in order to “complete, if necessary, certain analyzes of this report”.
This is not the first time that pilots have been singled out for non-compliance with procedures. Thirteen years ago, in October 2009, a few months after the accident on the Rio-Paris flight, Air France management had, in a letter sent to all the pilots, reported recent major incidents attributable to the non- compliance with the flight procedures of certain pilots”.