Six On Trial In 1992 Airbus Crash

Wednesday May 3, 2006

Six people went on trial in eastern France on Tuesday on charges of manslaughter over the 1992 crash of an Airbus airliner in which 87 people died.

A long investigation failed to single out one particular reason why the Air Inter Airbus A320 crashed into the Sainte-Odile mountain as it approached Strasbourg Airport in eastern France on January 20, 1992. There were only 9 survivors.

Five of those charged -- a former air traffic controller and four former managers from the civil aviation authority, Air Inter and Airbus Industries -- appeared at the start of a trial which is expected to last about two months.

Air Intra, Strasbourg France, Crash
Attributed to Interface Design Error

 The sixth defendant, a former deputy director general of Air Inter, was absent for medical reasons but is expected to appear during the course of the trial.

All six have pleaded not guilty.

The defendants are accused of committing errors that might have affected the safety of the Airbus A320. The court will have to decide whether the possible reasons suggested for the crash are punishable by the penal code.

The investigation suggested a range of possible factors which may, together, explain what caused the crash. These included the quality of guidance the plane was given to direct it towards Strasbourg and the composition of the crew.

Two of the defendants, both former civil aviation authority officials, are accused of failing to ensure that Air Inter planes

 were installed with an alarm system that would have warned the pilots that they were close to the ground -- a system which has since become an international norm.

"They are being prosecuted not for violating a law or a regulation, but because the aeronautical law of the time was judged inadequate," their lawyer told the court after the charges were read out.

An association of the victims' families, called Echo, called for convictions.

"We want a dignified debate, that is to say that every issue is raised, that people take responsibility and that justice is done," said Echo's secretary Dominique Beguin.

"That will help us to find a certain peace of mind, to turn the page and to pay homage to those who died."

The trial raises sensitive issues of responsibility and is being closely monitored by the airline industry.

A French aeronautical media association said its members had been subjected to pressure from vested interests and cancelled a debate it had organized on the subject.

Air Inter was the domestic subsidiary of French flag carrier Air France and has since been absorbed into the parent airline, which has also recently merged with Dutch carrier KLM.

from this link

Status: Final
Date: 20 JAN 1992
Time: 19:20
Type: Airbus A.320-111
Operator: Air Inter
Registration: F-GGED
C/n / msn: 015
Year built: 1988
Total airframe hrs: 6316
Cycles: 7194
Engines: 2 CFMI CFM56-5A1
Crew: Fatalities: 5 / Occupants: 6
Passengers: Fatalities: 82 / Occupants: 90
Total: Fatalities: 87 / Occupants: 96
Airplane damage: Written off
Location: 19,5 km (12.2 mls) from Strasbourg (France)
Phase: Approach
Nature: Domestic Scheduled Passenger
Departure airport: Lyon Satolas Airport (LYS)
Destination airport: Strasbourg-Entzheim Airport (SXB)
Flight Number: 148
Following an uneventful flight from Lyons the crew prepared for a descent and approach to Strasbourg. At first the crew asked for an ILS approach to runway 26 followed by a visual circuit to land on runway 05. This was not possible because of departing traffic from runway 26. The Strasbourg controllers then gave flight 148 radar guidance to ANDLO at 11DME from the Strasbourg VORTAC. Altitude over ANDLO was 5000 feet. After ANDLO the VOR/DME approach profile calls for a 5.5% slope (3.3deg angle of descent) to the Strasbourg VORTAC. While trying to program the angle of descent, "-3.3", into the Flight Control Unit (FCU) the crew did not notice that it was in HDG/V/S (heading/vertical speed) mode. In vertical speed mode "-3.3" means a descent rate of 3300 feet/min. In TRK/FPA (track/flight path angle) mode this would have meant a (correct) -3.3deg descent angle. A -3.3deg descent angle corresponds with an 800 feet/min rate of descent. The Vosges mountains near Strasbourg were in clouds above 2000 feet, with tops of the layer reaching about 6400 feet when flight 148 started descending from ANDLO. At about 3nm from ANDLO the aircraft struck trees and impacted a 2710 feet high ridge at the 2620 feet level near Mt. Saint-Odile. Because the aircraft was not GPWS-equipped, the crew were not warned.


» CVR transcript Air Inter Flight 148
» Accident Investigation Report BEA F-ED920120

Follow-up / safety actions:
As a result of this accident Airbus made some design improvements to the FCU giving the digital VS mode read-out 4 digits and the FPA read-out just 2. Furthermore, 34 safety recommendations were issued by the French BEA.

France prosecutes six over 1992 Air Inter crash
Six French aviation officials will go on trial in May over the fatal crash 14 years ago of an Air Inter Airbus A320 on approach to the then military-run Strasbourg airport.

Officials from the airline, the aircraft manufacturer and French civil aviation authority DGAC, as well as the military air traffic controller on duty, have been indicted under the charge of involuntarily causing death and injuries.

The accident happened on the evening of 20 January 1992 when the A320 struck a ridge at around 2,600ft (790m) while attempting a VOR/DME approach to runway 05 after a flight from Lyons, killing 87 of the 96 passengers and crew.

Air Inter was merged into Air France in 1997.

Although the digital flight data recorder was destroyed, investigators were able to determine much of the sequence of events from the quick access recorder, cockpit voice recorder and radar data.

The accident report was published in 1994 and included several safety recommendations. The investigation found signs that the crew may have mistakenly configured the A320’s flight control unit when selecting between the flight path angle and vertical speed modes. As a result Airbus revised the design to expand the digital vertical speed mode read-out to four digits while the flight path angle display remains as two. Airbus’s then engineering chief Bernard Ziegler has been indicted over the ergonomic design of the A320 cockpit, as well as the possibility that the aircraft’s DME navigation system was faulty.

At the time, it was not mandatory to install a ground proximity warning system in French aircraft, and the A320 did not have the system. This absence has resulted in the DGAC’s then head of technical control Claude Frantzen and the director general Pierre-Henri Gourgeon being indicted, as well as Air Inter’s then chief executive Daniel Cauvin.

The airline’s operations director at the time of the accident, Jacques Rantet, has been indicted because the A320’s two pilots both had relatively little experience on the fly-by-wire twinjet at the time. The trial is expected to last two months.

from this link