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CRASH

Probe to reveal ‘exact circumstances’ of Rio-Paris crash

Investigators said they will unveil new findings on Friday revealing the "exact circumstances" of the deadly crash of an Air France jet in the Atlantic in 2009.

The French aviation authority BEA said Monday it will make its third formal report from its investigation into how the plane crashed en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on June 1, 2009, killing all 228 people on board.

“This report will present the exact circumstances of the accident with an initial analysis and some new findings based on the data recovered from the flight recorders,” it said in a statement.

It added that it would brief the media in Paris at 2:30pm on Friday.

According to information from the recorders already released by the BEA, the pilots saw conflicting speeds on their instruments as the plane stalled and fell into the sea.

An interim inquiry had pointed to an icing problem with the probes measuring air speed but there has still been no definitive conclusion as to the cause of the crash.

The new elements in Friday’s report will “present the different chains of events that led to the accident” but will not formally establish the cause, a BEA spokeswoman told AFP.

“These first points of analysis will allow us to indicate the failures that led to the accident, but not their cause,” she said. A further final report is due later.

According to several experts, the deactivation of the autopilot could have been caused by the icing up of the air speed probes, known as Pitots.

Since the accident, Air France has replaced the Pitots on its Airbus fleet with a newer model.

Both companies are being investigated for alleged manslaughter in connection with the crash.

Pilot’s unions and some of the victims’ families have accused the airline of reacting too slowly to safety warnings but both Airbus and Air France insist they reacted properly.

“We are waiting for more information on the circumstances of the accident, how it took place and above all the technical state of the aircraft during the flight’s last moments,” said Robert Soulas of a victims’ families association.

“What has been released by the BEA has been very fragmented and has not allowed us to fully understand the situation,” he told AFP.

It took investigators nearly two years to salvage the black-box flight recorders from the wreck on the ocean floor in May.

Rescue workers recovered 50 bodies in the days immediately after the crash and this year retrieved a further 104, which were returned to France last month. More than 70 could not be recovered.

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AIR FRANCE

Air France, Hop! to cut 7,580 jobs

Air France management said Friday it planned to eliminate 7,580 jobs at the airline and its regional unit Hop! by the end of 2022 because of the coronavirus crisis.

Air France, Hop! to cut 7,580 jobs
An Air France plane lands at JFK airport in New York. Image: STAN HONDA / AFP

The carrier wants to get rid of 6,560 positions of the 41,000 at Air France, and 1,020 positions of the 2,420 at Hop!, according to a statement issued after meetings between managers and staff representatives.

“For three months, Air France's activity and turnover have plummeted 95 percent, and at the height of the crisis, the company lost 15 million euros a day,” said the group, which anticipated a “very slow” recovery.

The aviation industry has been hammered by the travel restrictions imposed to contain the virus outbreak, with firms worldwide still uncertain when they will be able to get grounded planes back into the air.

Air France said it wanted to begin a “transformation that rests mainly on changing the model of its domestic activity, reorganising its support functions and pursuing the reduction of its external and internal costs”.

The planned job cuts amount to 16 percent of Air France's staff and 40 percent of those at Hop!

With the focus on short-haul flights, management is counting mainly on the non-replacement of retiring workers or voluntary departures and increasing geographic mobility.

However, unions warn that Air France may resort to layoffs for the first time, if not enough staff agree to leave or move to other locations. 

'Crisis is brutal'

Shaken heavily by the coronavirus crisis, like the entire aviation sector, the Air France group launched a reconstruction plan aiming to reduce its loss-making French network by 40 percent through the end of 2021.

“The crisis is brutal and these measures are on an unprecedented scale,” CEO Anne Rigail conceded in a message to employees, a copy of which AFP obtained. They also include, she said, “salary curbs with a freeze on general and individual increases (outside seniority and promotions) for all in 2021 and 2022,” including executives of Air France.

The airline told AFP earlier this week that: “The lasting drop in activity and the economic context due to the COVID-19 crisis require the acceleration of Air France's transformation.”

Air France-KLM posted a loss of 1.8 billion euros in the first quarter alone, and has warned it could be years before operations return to pre-coronavirus levels.

Air France has been offered seven billion euros in emergency loans from the French state or backed by it, while the Dutch government approved a 3.4 billion euro package of bailout loans for KLM last week.

The group joins a long list of airlines that have announced job cuts in recent weeks.

Lufthansa is to slash 22,000 jobs, British Airways 12,000, Delta Air Lines 10,000 and Qantas 6,000.

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