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Thursday, August 12, 2010

'Second most deadly': Air France slammed over safety

Air France-KLM's safety record came under harsh scrutiny yesterday as a shock new book added to the problems facing Europe's biggest airline as it announced record losses.

The company's recent record of disastrous crashes was already on the front pages of the press even as executives announced losses of 1.55 billion euros ($A2.26 billion) between March 2009 and March 2010.

The Hidden Face of Air France, an investigation by journalist Fabrice Amedeo into what he alleges are failures in Air France's management culture, accuses Air France executives of having a lax attitude to flight safety.

Air France rejects the allegations.

Air France flights have fallen victim to several accidents in recent years and, according to the French daily Liberation, statistics compiled online rank its safety record as only the 65th best in the world.

And with 1783 fatalities in its history, according to a tally compiled by the Swiss-based website "Aircraft Crashes Record Office", Air France has been the second most deadly airline for passengers after Russia's Aeroflot.

Germany's Lufthansa, which is of similar size and age, is in 43rd place.

In June last year Air France flight 447 from Rio to Paris broke apart and plunged into the Atlantic with the loss of all 228 people on board.

The cause of the crash has not been officially determined, but investigators found that cockpit flight computers were receiving incorrect airspeed readings and Air France has since replaced speed probes on its other jets.

An undersea search has so far failed to find the missing black box flight data recorders, but lawyers acting for the victims' families have accused the airline of knowingly flying with probes known to be at risk of icing up.

In the new book, Amedeo suggests the pilots might have been able to save the flight if their Airbus A330 had been equipped with a safety system known as a BUSS of a type Lufthansa fitted to all its planes in 2008.

In July 2000 an Air France Concorde supersonic airliner caught fire after take off from Paris and exploded, killing all 113 on board.

In August 2005, and Air France flight into Toronto skidded on the runway on arrival and broke apart. Miraculously, no-one was killed.

"Air France has a fleet of ultramodern planes, and its pilots are among the best in the world ... but its safety statistics are those of a second division company," writes Amedeo in his book.

"The problem appears not to be technical but cultural," he says, accusing the airline's executives of a "certain laxity" in responding to incidents and adapting their safety procedures.

The company responded to Liberation's account of the book with a statement.

"Air France's safety standards meet the most stringent requirements in the international aviation industry," it said.

"Air France is continuously working on improving flight safety which has always been one of its main priorities."

Air France shares were trading down 4.61 per cent on the Paris exchange as markets awaited confirmation of the annual results, which were expected to be the company's worst since its 2004 merger with Dutch carrier KLM.


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