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Air France charges dropped over crash of Rio flight that killed 228 people

French magistrates investigating the 2009 crash of a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in which 228 people died have ordered that the charges against Airbus and Air France be dropped, legal sources told told AFP Thursday.

Air France charges dropped over crash of Rio flight that killed 228 people
The Brazilian Navy recover parts of the crashed plane from the Atlantic. Photo: AFP

Air France flight AF447 plunged into the Atlantic during a storm on June 1, 2009, after the plane's Pitot tubes – which enable pilots to monitor their speed – malfunctioned

The sources said the magistrates had ordered that manslaughter charges be brought against both Airbus and Air France be dropped.

The main association of victims' families called the decision an “insult to the memory of the victims” and announced plans to appeal.

The crash was the worst in Air France's history and prompted much soul-searching about pilot training after it emerged that one of the co-pilots reacted incorrectly when the plane stalled after the speed sensors froze over

It took two years to find the wreckage of the Airbus A330, which was eventually located by remote-controlled submarines at a depth of 3,900 metres.

Magistrates later charged Air France and Airbus with manslaughter, but prosecutors in July recommended that only the airline face trial.

The prosecutors accused Air France of negligence for failing to train its pilots about how to react if the Pitot tubes malfunctioned, after several incidents involving the sensors in the months leading up to the crash.

In such cases the magistrates leading the investigation have the final say over prosecutors, but the decision can be appealed by defence or civil plaintiffs.

Since the disaster, pilot training on dealing with unforeseen circumstances has been stepped up in France and several other countries.

Aircraft safety has been in the spotlight this year after two crashes involving the 737 MAX plane from US aircraft manufacturer Boeing, which has led to the global fleet of the aircraft being grounded as a result.

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FLIGHT

All flights to be grounded on Friday night on collapsed French airline

France's second-largest airline Aigle Azur, which went into receivership this week, plans to cancel all flights starting Friday night as it seeks a takeover bid to save the company, according to an internal document seen by AFP on Thursday.

All flights to be grounded on Friday night on collapsed French airline
Photo: AFP

Aigle Azur had warned earlier that some flights would be halted and all ticket sales suspended from September 10th, the day following a deadline for submitting bids to acquire the airline.

“The company's financial situation and the resulting operational difficulties do not allow us to ensure flights after the evening of September 6th,” according to a statement addressed to employees.

“If you take a flight after September 6th, 2019, whatever the airport of departure this flight is cancelled. You will have to buy another return ticket,” the carrier said.

Aigle Azul, which said it would run 44 flights on Friday, mainly to Algeria, urged affected passengers to check on their existing insurance – notably via their credit card provider – for reimbursement.

It also told travellers who had booked through a travel agency to approach them for advice on the redress they were entitled to.

It said the company had been “forced to resort” to an “unfortunate option that puts out clients, our teams and our partners in great difficulty.”

“The search for takeover offers is continuing actively,” it added.

The airline had initially pledged to maintain operations after filing for bankruptcy protection on Monday, following years of losing millions of euros.

The move came after a shareholder coup ousted chief executive Frantz Yvelin last week, accusing him of making “strategic mistakes over the past two years.”

Destinations in Algeria make up half of Aigle Azur's operations, and the company posted revenues of €300 million last year after transporting some 1.9 million passengers.

But it wasn't enough to stem heavy losses that last month prompted the airline to announce plans to sell its Portugal routes to low-cost rival Vueling.

Its shareholders are now hoping for a white-knight offer for the airline and its 1,150 employees, including some 350 based in Algeria.

The largest shareholder in Aigle Azur is the Chinese conglomerate HNA Group, which owns Hainan Airlines, with a 49 percent stake.

David Neeleman, an American airline entrepreneur whose companies include JetBlue and TAP Air Portugal, owns 32 percent, and French businessman Gerard Houa owns 19 percent.

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