French judges have dropped manslaughter charges against Airbus and Air France over the 2009 crash of Air France 447, instead blaming the pilots.

Killing 228 people, the Air France Airbus A330-203, registered F-GZCP, was performing flight 447 between Rio de Janeiro and Paris when it plunged into the Atlantic Ocean.

Citing Reuters, the judges concluded that the Air France pilots failed to appropriately process all warnings and instrument readings; this resulted in the catastrophic accident.

2009 Air France Airbus A330 Crash Blamed on Pilots
Airbus A330 Cockpit (Delta Air Lines)

Cruising at 38,000 feet the aircraft entered a nasty patch of weather, causing ice to form on the critical pitot sensors that provide airspeed and angle of attack information to the flight computers.

When the autopilot disengaged, as a result of no airspeed and angle of attack information, the pilots were greatly startled, leading to a damaging chain of events.

The 2012 report, published by the Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety of France, found that the pilots reacted to low airspeed by continually holding the nose of the A330 up.

Consequently, the aircraft, which was not in a flight mode that enabled flight protection laws, stalled and plummeted to its end.

2009 Air France Airbus A330 Crash Blamed on Pilots
Air France 447 Airbus A330 tail recovery (Photo: AFP)

Unfortunately, it will always remain unclear what was going through the flight crew’s minds to ignore such a significant amount of stall and low airspeed warnings.

Poor training and cockpit information presentation were also contributing factors; however the judges still overruled the prosecutors investigating the case, who recommended Air France stand trial.

During the investigation, and through ongoing research, it was found that the pilots facing the same scenario in simulators were able to recover the aircraft with ease.

Despite this decision, the families of the passengers involved are not happy. A lawyer representing them is expected to immediately appeal.

The argument is that the judges ruled that icing of the sensors was not the cause, rather instead it was the pilots; however had the icing never occurred, the pilots would never have had to deal with the situation.

Air France 447 has been a journey full of tragedy, arguments and great learning efforts. The accident is the worst in history for Air France and the Airbus A330 program.

To this day, lessons from the accident are still being implemented in aircraft design and crew training.

Greater clarity over the relationship between pilots and their aircraft has been provided and training has been completely overhauled over the years.

Airbus pitot suppliers have provided retrofits for all aircraft to address this potential icing and debris issue, flight control laws have been tuned based on the investigation findings and new aircraft programs.

For the full, lengthy report on Air France 447, you can read the BEA report here.


Cover image by Pawel Kierzkowski via Wikimedia Commons and is the same aircraft involved in the accident two years from its capture in 2007.

BoardingArea