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Investigators probe Air France A380 after engine blow-out

A team of investigators and engineers headed to Canada on Sunday to inspect an Airbus A380 superjumbo operated by Air France which was forced to make an emergency landing after an engine explosion.

Investigators probe Air France A380 after engine blow-out
The damaged engine of an Air France A380 superjumbo before it made an emergency landing in Canada. Photo: Sarah Eamigh/Twitter/AFP

The double-decker aircraft carrying 496 passengers and 24 crew had taken off from Paris on Saturday bound for Los Angeles and was several hours into the flight when the blow-out occurred.

Passengers recounted hearing a loud bang followed by violent shaking, with video and photos posted on social media showing extensive damage to the outer starboard engine.

An Air France spokesman said Sunday that officials from France's BEA air crash investigation unit and engineers from Airbus and the US-based engine maker were flying to Goose Bay in eastern Canada where the plane landed.

“The cabin started vibrating. Someone screamed, and from there we knew something was wrong,” passenger Sarah Eamigh told Canadian broadcaster CBC News about the incident in the skies above Greenland on Saturday.

“We saw the cabin crew walking through the aisles quickly, and we heard an announcement from the captain that said one of our engines had an explosion,” she added.

All passengers were expected on Sunday morning to complete their journeys to Los Angeles aboard two planes sent by Air France to the Goose Bay military airport, which is used as a emergency landing spot for transatlantic flights.

“All of the 520 people on board were evacuated with no injuries,” the spokesman told AFP.

The cause of the problem was not immediately clear, but David Rehmar, a former aircraft mechanic who was on the flight, told the BBC that he thought a fan failure may have been to blame.

“You heard a loud 'boom', and it was the vibration alone that made me think the engine had failed,” he said.

Rehmar said that for a few moments, he thought “we were going to go down”.

In 2010, a Qantas A380 was forced to make an emergency landing in Singapore when one of its Rolls-Royce engines failed, causing the airline to ground its fleet of the superjumbos for weeks.

'Enormous bang'

Another passenger on the Air France flight, John Birkhead, told the New York Times that he and his wife had just stood up to stretch when they heard
an explosion.

“We were just stretching and talking, and suddenly there was an enormous bang, and the whole plane shook,” Birkhead, 59, said. “We were lucky we
weren't tossed to the ground.”

Passenger Miguel Amador posted video footage apparently filmed from a window of the plane showing the damaged engine.

“Engine failure halfway over the Atlantic ocean,” he wrote.

Passenger Pamela Adams said everything on the flight had been normal “and suddenly it felt like we had run into a jeep in the middle of 35,000 feet high”, she told CBC News.

She said she was “jostled” and the plane dipped slightly “but the pilots recovered beautifully”.

“There wasn't the panic that I would've expected,” she said, praising the pilots for the way they handled the incident.

Air France operates 10 Airbus A380s, the largest passenger planes in the world.

Their version of the plane uses GP7200 engines, a giant turbofan built by General Electric and Pratt and Whitney of the US.

Sales of the mammoth A380 have been sluggish and Airbus has said it will reduce production in 2019 to just eight of the planes.

In 2015 the company produced 27 of them.

Nonetheless, Airbus CEO Tom Enders recently voiced confidence in the future of the plane.

By AFP's Isabel MALSANG

 

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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