SEOUL / MONTREAL (Reuters) – While the Air France pilots fought for control, an Airbus A330 passenger plane sank for four minutes from a height of 38,000 feet. The engines were running, but the wings could not hold enough air for the flight.
FILE PHOTO – The wreckage of the missing Air France flight 447 can be seen on June 12, 2009 at the Air Force Base in Recife. REUTERS / Stringer / File Photo
The 205-ton, doomed jet was an aerodynamic stable after its arrival in freefall. The ordeal ended halfway from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in the early hours of June 1, 2009, during an Atlantic storm in a tragedy that killed all 228 people on board.
On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the disaster, members of the aviation industry continue to learn the lessons of Flight 447 from Air France, even though the two-month-old global grounding of Boeing's 737 MAX aircraft is facing a new crisis.
French investigators found that the crew of AF447 had mishandled the loss of speed of sensors blocked with ice from the storm and pushed them too high in a stall.
The BEA investigation authority called for improved training of pilots, instructors and inspectors, as well as a better design of the cockpit among the recommendations to prevent a recurrence of the disaster.
The crash, which sparked a broader debate on the balance between humans and technology, is considered one of the few accidents that has changed aviation. However, the implementation of some BEA recommendations took up to a decade.
Even before the bulk of the wreck was found, the agency demanded improved tracking of aircraft by the end of 2009.
The initial response from the aviation industry was lukewarm, and the regulatory body charged with such discussions had, for some time, been left without a meeting, according to people with direct knowledge of the discussions, as there was no secretary.
Only after the disappearance of a second jet in 2014, the MH370 – a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, did regulators take decisive action.
Last year, the decision came into force to demand signals every 15 minutes in remote areas.
"According to AF447, many people had an intuitive perception that an accident of an airplane flying over the ocean is very, very rare, and so it was not obvious that there would be another (case)," said the current director of the BEA. Remi Jouty.
"It was frustrating to see that adoption of international standards took some time. However, we know that processes are very slow, and that MH370 hastened things and there was momentum, "he told Reuters.
Airlines in annual annual talks in Seoul this weekend will seek to restore confidence, which has been plagued by Boeing's two recent crashes and the disappearance of MH370.
A spokesman for the International Civil Aviation Organization, the United Nations aviation agency, warned against establishing links between AF447 and Malaysia's MH370. "The real recommendations for aircraft tracking came after MH370, and the only reason they seem to have been adopted more quickly is because they leverage the work already initiated after AF447," he said.
A second big break from AF447 involved training, Jouty of BEA said. Investigators rarely blame accidents, but try to understand the mental image of a confused crew and determine what training is needed to avoid future catastrophes.
Along with the fatal crash of a Colgan Air turboprop near Buffalo, New York, in 2009, the AF447 tragedy led to new procedures and training.
Other important recommendations are at odds.
In 2011, the BEA called for an indicator that would alert the pilot to the "Angle of Attack" – a stall-related parameter once again in the limelight after MAX crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.
Opponents say civilian pilots are trained to rely on other data, and the ad would be superfluous or even confusing.
For nearly 20 years, many investigators have been calling for cockpit video cameras to record what information is actually being displayed to the pilot. The BEA reiterated the proposal for AF447.
Pilot unions reject the idea because they have concerns about privacy and fear that this could be a distraction.
The loss of control continues to cause concern.
Air France and the French unions have defended the AF447 pilots on the grounds that they are confronted with conflicting alerts.
"I've really been pushing people to fly manually in the last 20 to 25 years," said Mohammed Aziz, a former aviation investigator and consultant at Aviation Strategies International, adding that many pilots were ordered so much as possible to use autopilot.
"Automation makes your life a lot easier, but once you have to use your skills, you find that most pilots have lost some," Aziz added.
Reporting by Tim Hepher; Edited by Himani Sarkar