Air France revamps flight safety analysis procedures

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Air France is amending its flight-safety analysis procedures, introducing a new position to quicken its response and assessment of incidents.

The carrier undertook an in-depth examination of its operations and decision-making processes in the wake of the mid-Atlantic crash of flight AF447 in June 2009.

Investigators have yet to release a final report into the accident but have attributed the loss of the Airbus A330 to a failed stall recovery after an encounter with in-flight icing.

Air France says the creation of a new "gatekeeper" role follows recommendations from external specialists who reviewed the carrier's safety procedures.

In the event of an incident or other flight occurrence, the gatekeeper would contact the captain, first officers and other crew to "rapidly obtain additional information" which the carrier believes would be "essential" to understand any anomalous situation.

Air France has signed an agreement for the new process with its main cockpit union, SNPL, adding that it wants to "increase reactivity" and reduce the time needed to analyse abnormal flight data.

Under the plan, the gatekeepers will provide pilots with appropriate solutions - including training, tools and advice - to enable its crews to cope with specific situations. Air France will also convene a commission every two months to put forward improvements in operational procedures, training and other relevant areas.

Air France executive vice-president of flight operations Eric Schramm describes the change as a "major advance in flight safety" for the carrier.

The AF447 accident and the investigation's initial findings remain a controversial issue within SNPL, and the union issued a white paper in February in which it presses for greater examination of the role of icing on the aircraft's behaviour.

SNPL says it is "surprised" the investigators issued several recommendations on flight recorders but not on in-flight icing conditions - although it acknowledges the final report into AF447 will not be released until May.

"We strongly hope that the [inquiry] in its final report proposes recommendations to help pilots manage these adverse weather phenomena, whose consequences can be disastrous," it states.

SNPL also reiterates its concerns over the stall warning logic on board the A330, and whether system design hampered the AF447 pilots' ability to recognise and deal with the stall.