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Air France Under Scrutiny Over Safety Incidents


PARIS — Air France pilots are under scrutiny after a series of incidents which have raised concerns over safety protocols on flights operated by the French flagship carrier, prompting aviation investigators to reprimand the airline last week.

The most recent incident to come back to light involved two pilots who were suspended after a physical fight within the cockpit of an A320 plane in flight from Geneva to Paris in June, a spokesman for Air France said Monday, confirming a report within the French newspaper La Tribune. He added that the flight continued on and landed safely.

The news of the fight has come amid broader concerns about flight safety at Air France. A couple of days ago, French investigators issued a report saying the airline’s pilots lacked rigor in following safety procedures.

Investigators said several recent incidents suggested “that a certain culture has been established amongst some Air France crews, favoring a propensity to underestimate the advantages of a strict application of procedures for safety.”

The dispute between the 2 pilots on the Geneva-Paris flight began shortly after takeoff when one refused to follow an instruction, in accordance with La Tribune. After one in all them reportedly hit the opposite, the 2 grabbed one another’s collars. Cabin crew quickly intervened, and one crew member spent the remaining of the flight within the cockpit to forestall the fight from resuming, the article added.

Mathieu Guillot, the Air France spokesman, confirmed that the 2 pilots had exchanged “inappropriate gestures” in what he described as a physical altercation, but he didn’t elaborate on it. He added that the suspended pilots “are awaiting a managerial decision on the final result and treatment of the incident.”

The report on Air France published last week by the Bureau of Enquiry and Evaluation for Civil Aviation Safety, a French government agency that investigates aviation accidents and incidents, warned of poorly observed safety procedures by pilots and issued recommendations to deal with the situation.

The report focused on a fuel leak on an Air France flight from Brazzaville, within the Republic of Congo, to Paris in December 2020, which forced the plane to reroute and land in Chad. The agency said that the plane’s pilots didn’t rigorously follow procedures for a fuel leak and did not shut down the leaking engine to cut back fire risk.

The pilots told investigators that they were fearful that turning off the engine in the course of the night may lead to complications in the course of the landing, and believed that that they had enough fuel left to divert the flight to Chad.

But the choice not to chop the facility of the affected engine resulted in a flight that was less protected and that the pilots avoided a fireplace “by probability,” the report said.

The aviation agency said “the reoccurrence of investigations” on previous incidents that similarly involved pilots ignoring safety procedures showed that there was “an adjustment of the procedures or perhaps a deliberate violation of them resulting in a discount of the security margins” at Air France.

It also highlighted what it called “a culture favorable to such a deviation,” pointing to some language within the Air France pilot handbook suggesting a considerable degree of autonomy in terms of following safety procedures.

“Air France should put compliance with procedures back at the middle of the corporate’s safety culture,” the report concluded.

Mr. Guillot said Air France considered the security of its customers and crew members “its absolute priority” and added that the airline had announced that it will start a security audit in a couple of months.

In a news release last week, the SNPL Air France Transavia, a union of French pilots, contested the conclusions of the report, saying that “flight safety and compliance with procedures are central to the work of Air France pilots” and that the airline’s feedback process on safety incidents was “probably the greatest on this planet.”

The news of the fight and the publication of the report come at a critical time for Air France, which is facing involuntary manslaughter charges in an upcoming trial over the crash of a 2009 flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. The trial is scheduled to start on Oct. 10.

Investigators determined that the pilots, who were among the many 228 individuals who died on the Rio-to-Paris flight, had been confused by faulty speed monitoring equipment, and Air France was accused of not directly causing the tragedy by failing to offer sufficient training on the way to react in case of malfunction of this equipment.

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