Airbus, Air France Acquited over 2009 Rio-Paris Crash

Air France (AF) and Airbus have been cleared of involuntary manslaughter charges over the 2009 crash of AF Flight 447 and the loss of 228 lives.



April 17, 2023

DALLAS — Air France (AF) and Airbus have been cleared of involuntary manslaughter charges in connection to the 2009 crash of Flight 447, which claimed the lives of 228 people during a trip from Rio de Janeiro (GIG) to Paris (CDG). The tragedy resulted in long-lasting changes to safety measures in aircraft.

The French court delivered the ruling after a two-month trial. They have been fighting for 13 years to bring the case to court, and the subsequent trial has left the families feeling frustrated and resentful. Emotional outbursts have been seen from troubled families who shouted down the CEOs of Airbus and Air France at the opening of the proceedings in October. Some called out "Shame!" as the executives took the stand.

Interestingly, state prosecutors have always advocated acquittal, citing a lack of sufficient evidence of criminal wrongdoing on the part of the companies.

By Arne Müseler /, CC BY-SA 3.0 de,
Memorial Air France 447, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. Photo: Arne Müseler /, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons.

Primary Responsibility

Airbus and AF placed the primary responsibility for the 2009 crash on the pilots who died. Both faced fines of up to €225,000 (US$219,000) if found guilty of manslaughter. AF had added that the actual reason for the disaster might never be known.

While no prison sentences were at risk, the potential conviction for the aviation giants could have a ripple effect throughout the industry.

Air France has already compensated the families of the 228 people killed, who hailed from 33 countries.

Recife, 8 June 2009; Captain Tabosa shows the map with the location of the remains of the Airbus A330-203.
June 8, 2009; Captain Tabosa shows the map with the location of the remains of the Airbus A330-203. Photo: Valter Campanato/ABrCC BY 3.0 BR, via Wikimedia Commons.

Highly Charged Trial/Investigation

The Airbus A330-200 disappeared in a storm over the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, 2009, with the wreckage discovered two years later, along with the black box recorders, at depths of over 13,000 feet (around 4,000 meters).

The 2009 Rio-Paris Flight 447 crash investigation concluded that several factors, such as pilot error and ice formation on pitot tubes, led to the disaster.

According to an Associated Press investigation from the time, Airbus had prior knowledge since 2002 about issues with the pitot tubes used on the ill-fated aircraft but only took action to replace them after the crash occurred.

Air France faced accusations of failing to train its crews on dealing with pitot probes icing despite knowing the risks. Meanwhile, Airbus was accused of failing to promptly inform airlines and their crews about the faults with pitot tubes or provide adequate training to manage the associated risks.

The crash led to changes in regulations for airspeed sensors and how pilots are trained, leaving a lasting impact on the industry.

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Feature Image: Air France F-GZCH Airbus A330-200. Photo: Tony Bordelais/Airways