Air France pilots made a series of errors on the Rio to Paris flight that crashed in 2009 killing 228 people, partly due to a lack of training, investigators said Friday.

"/> Air France pilots made a series of errors on the Rio to Paris flight that crashed in 2009 killing 228 people, partly due to a lack of training, investigators said Friday.

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ACCIDENT

New report cites pilot error in Rio-Paris crash

Air France pilots made a series of errors on the Rio to Paris flight that crashed in 2009 killing 228 people, partly due to a lack of training, investigators said Friday.

Pilots failed to react correctly when the Airbus jet lost altitude after its speed sensors froze up and failed, and lacked training to deal with the sensors’ failure, said French aviation authority BEA.

The pilots “did not formally identify the loss of altitude” despite an alarm ringing for nearly a minute, it said in a report.

Air France immediately defended its pilots, however, saying the altitude-loss alert system had malfunctioned, in a statement released at the same time as the BEA report on Friday.

The BEA’s report said the pilots failed to notice that the plane had lost altitude after its speed sensors, known as Pitots, malfunctioned during the overnight flight on June 1, 2009.

Air France replaced the Pitots, manufactured by French company Thales, on its Airbus planes with a newer model after the crash.

Both Air France and Airbus are being investigated for alleged manslaughter in connection with the crash.

It was the third formal report from years of investigations into how the Airbus plane on flight AF447 crashed en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on June 1, 2009, killing all on board.

The Inquiry and Analysis Bureau (BEA) took nearly two years to locate the wreck of the crash and its “black box” flight recorders and retrieve many of the victims’ bodies.

Officials insisted earlier that the BEA’s findings would not amount to an official attribution of blame for the disaster that has implicated pilots, the airline and plane and equipment makers.

“The BEA establishes the facts and makes recommendations based on those facts,” Environment and Transport Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said on RTL radio Friday. “As to who is responsible, that is up to the courts.”

Victims’ families alleged that the involvement of big French corporations such as Airbus and Air France risked influencing the affair.

“The economic stakes take precedence over the search for the truth,” said Robert Soulas, leader of a victims’ relatives’ association.

Both Air France and Airbus are being investigated for alleged manslaughter in connection with the crash.

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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