How the Rio-Paris flight drama changed the culture of aviation safety

While the trial relating to the disaster of the Air France Rio-Paris flight, which occurred on the night of May 31 to June 1, 2009, opens on October 10, many aviation professionals are formal. In terms of air safety, there is indeed a before and after for flight AF447, the accident of which caused the death of the 228 people on board.

“When the Concorde accident happened in 2000, of course we felt pain and compassion, explains Gérard Feldzer, former captain and instructor at Air France, now an aeronautical consultant. But nothing had been called into question in our job as a pilot. The Rio-Paris, on the contrary, turned things upside down, led us to self-criticism and more humility in the face of our certainties. »

Permanently heated probes

We know that the Pitot speed probes present on the Airbus, which allow the pilots to control the speed of their aircraft and therefore its balance, were frosted and sent inconsistent information. “The pilots, guided by bad information and without external visibility in the night, tried to react, suffering from multiple sometimes contradictory warning signals and resulting in sometimes inappropriate reactions”, says Xavier Tytelman, aeronautics consultant. According to this specialist, such a situation was theoretically not possible, the Airbus A330 being a 4e generation, able to protect themselves through their computers from dangerous situations such as dropping out.

Since then, international regulations concerning instrumentation have evolved. “Today, a backup speed assessment system, which does not rely on these sensors, is present on all aircraft”, says Xavier Tytelman. The latest generation aircraft also have speed sensors in the engines. According to a pilot, the probes must also come from different manufacturers. Knowledge of the phenomenon of ice crystal formation at high altitude has been refined after flight and wind tunnel test campaigns, and the certification standards for probes have been tightened.

No more translated manuals

On the Air France side, in addition to following up on the observations of the Civil Aviation Safety Investigation and Analysis Bureau (BEA), an external audit led to 35 additional recommendations. In particular on the manuals given to the crews. “These aircraft instruction manuals developed by the manufacturers and written in English were translated into French, and certain procedures had been amended by Air France in line with the experience of the company and our way of flying”, explains a good connoisseur of the company, specifying that these “amendments” were always validated by the General Directorate of Civil Aviation… From now on, the manuals are strictly those provided by the manufacturers and in their original language.

Education and training have been thoroughly reviewed. “After the disaster, I questioned myself as an instructor”, remembers Gérard Feldzer, according to whom the flight simulator sessions increasingly placed the pilots in precisely “impossible” situations theoretically, or at least not foreseen by the manufacturers. Most airlines have also reviewed their training to better take into account human factors when dealing with abnormal events and emergency situations…

Continuous control for pilots

Air France has also reviewed its annual crew validation system. Previously, the pilots had, on average, to perform four flight simulator sessions per year, only one of them being used for the qualification valid for one year. “On that day, we had to know how to recite our technical ranges in a way, for example to carry out the list of checks provided by the manufacturers according to the circumstances”, says a captain.

Since the disaster, the pilots have been subject to continuous monitoring throughout the year, with analyzes of their flights, even if the number of simulator sessions remains unchanged. “We are checked on nine skills, continues the captain. Three of them are technical, the others concern our capacities for risk management, awareness of situations or our way of communicating. »

Many experts believe that the Rio-Paris tragedy has raised air safety to an exceptional level. “If the scale of air traffic today combined with the level of security of the 1960s, we could fear tragedies every week or every month, points out a pilot from a large company. Today, it is extremely rare. »


Airbus and Air France prosecuted for manslaughter

Thirteen years after the disaster which occurred on the night of May 31 to June 1, 2009, the trial relating to flight AF447 opens on October 10 (and until December 8). The Paris Criminal Court will have to shed light on the criminal responsibility for the deadliest accident in the history of Air France. Airbus and Air France, both of which deny wrongdoing, are being sued for “manslaughter”. Each incurs a fine of €225,000. In total, 476 relatives of the 228 victims filed civil suits.

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