The long-awaited manslaughter trial into the 2009 Air France crash that killed 228 people has begun in Paris.
Both the airline and Airbus have denied accusations of negligence, with the former blaming pilot error for the incident and the latter arguing alarms confused the crew.
The accident saw the A330, en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, fall 11,500 metres at night, during which the stall warning sounded 75 times.
There were high tensions and emotions in the courtroom last week as family members of the victims cried “shame” while one man held a sign reading, “French Justice. 13 Years Too Late.”
German Bernds Gans, who lost his daughter Ines in the crash, said, “It’s very important that we made it to the trial stage… Thirteen years of waiting, it is almost inhuman.”
The devastating crash has had a lasting impact on the aviation industry, with changes to regulations regarding airspeed sensors and pilot training resulting from the incident.
The official investigation found multiple contributions to the crash, and the two-month trial will focus on a range of issues, including the icing over of external speed sensors (pitot tubes) and pilot error.
The CEO of Airbus, Guillaume Faury, said, “I wanted to be present today, first of all to speak of my deep respect and deepest consideration for the victims; loved ones.”
Air France and Airbus face potential fines of just €225,000 but could suffer huge reputational damage if found criminally responsible.
Investigating magistrates initially dropped the case in 2019, attributing the tragedy to pilot error. However, an appeal last year ruled there was sufficient evidence to proceed with a trial.
“Air France … will continue to demonstrate that it did not commit any criminal negligence that caused this accident, and will request an acquittal,” the airline said in a statement to AFP.
In 2010, a French judge ordered Air France to pay €126,000 (US$177,000) in compensation to the families of each victim of the crash.
The airline is considered liable to victims’ families under the Montreal Convention governing aviation accidents.