Final AF447 report set to re-ignite safety feud

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French investigation authority BEA appears likely to rekindle the smouldering conflict over the loss of Air France flight AF447 when it releases the final report into the accident on 5 July.

Air France and the main French pilots' union, SNPL, have previously clashed with Airbus over the circumstances of the crash and whether the fundamental reason for the loss centred on pilot competence or the design of the Airbus A330's flight-control and warning systems.

As expected, Airbus has submitted substantial comment to the inquiry following the release of the draft version of the report.

SNPL has already reiterated its concerns over aircraft functions and the alerts given to the crew, in a document published in February.

Airbus declines to comment on the AF447 report ahead of publication, but has previously strongly defended its aircraft and pointed out that three pilots appeared unable – despite clear warnings – to recognise the aerodynamic stall which downed the jet in June 2009.

Although the draft did not include recommendations it featured analysis by a human factors panel established to look into the crew's response to the stall.

But a source familiar with the situation indicates that the airframer is concerned whether the conclusions will focus too narrowly on the human-machine interface.

"If there are things to improve on the aircraft, [Airbus] won't try to escape in any way," says the source, but adds that the manufacturer “would like to see a report in which all the issues are being dealt with”.

The source also suggests that Airbus is likely to "become vocal" if it feels the breadth of the report is too narrow.

Former BEA deputy chief Jean Pariès - who heads human factors consultancy Dédale and took part in an Air France safety review - told an operations forum in Oslo in April that current safety models assume pilots will recognise and identify abnormal situations, then implement relevant procedures.

However in reality, he said, emergency situations generate surprise, causing momentary loss of cognitive control as well as resistance to recognising a loss of comprehension.

Pariès cited 16 events similar to AF447, all of which showed poor understanding, rare implementation of unreliable airspeed procedures and stall warnings which were "perceived but mostly not believed".

He suggests the problem cannot simply be reduced to "automation complacency" or loss of basic skills. Pariès claims crew training aims to prepare pilots for anticipated emergencies, not the unexpected, and highlights the irony that the competencies needed to cope with the unexpected "are those that are lost in a continuous effort to anticipate and respond to all potential threats".

Investigations into a strikingly similar event to AF447, involving an Air France A340 in July 2011, recommended that pilot training include shock and surprise elements.