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ACCIDENT

Air France crash: final report due for release

French investigators will release on Thursday a final report into what caused the mid-Atlantic crash of a Rio to Paris Air France flight that killed 228 people in 2009.

Air France crash: final report due for release

It may blame a combination of human error and technical malfunction. This was the finding of a preliminary report and also, according to a source, of a separate judicial enquiry to be released next week.

The report to be published Thursday by the French aviation safety authority BEA is eagerly awaited amid a bitter row between Airbus and Air France over who ultimately bears responsibility

The Airbus A330 vanished at night and during a storm on June 1, 2009. It took days before debris was located in the remote equatorial Atlantic Ocean area, and far longer until the wreckage was recovered.

The black boxes were finally located by robot submarines after a search spanning 23 months and costing about 32 million euros ($40 million).    

The BEA in a preliminary report into the crash last July said the pilots had failed to react correctly when the Airbus jet stalled and lost altitude after its speed sensors froze up and failed.

The aircraft had entered turbulence two hours into the flight when the autopilot suddenly disengaged, it said.

Shortly after, an instrument showed a sharp fall in airspeed and a stall warning sounded, indicating the plane was no longer being lifted by the air pushing under the wings.

As the two co-pilots struggled to understand the situation, the captain, who had left the cockpit to take a rest, returned but did not retake control of the plane, the BEA said last year.

Air France has insisted the pilots were not to blame, saying the stall alarm had malfunctioned.

French magistrates are investigating Air France and Airbus for alleged manslaughter in connection with the crash, notably because of the malfunctioning speed sensors, known as Pitots.

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

Victims’ families have previously alleged that the involvement of big French corporations such as Airbus and Air France was influencing the probe into the causes of the disaster. 

A separate judicial report – due to be presented to victims’ families next Tuesday – has concluded that both pilot error and malfunctioning speed sensors were responsible, a source has told AFP.

The source said the 356-page judicial report had found that speed sensors froze up and failed, but also that the “captain had failed in his duties” and “prevented the co-pilot from reacting”.

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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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