Air France chief and former head of Air Inter Jean-Cyril Spinetta has defended the decision not to equip the Air Inter Airbus A320 fleet with ground proximity warning system (GPWS) equipment, despite the fact that it might have prevented a 1992 fatal crash at Strasbourg.
Speaking at the Cannes Airlines Forum on modern airline safety this month, Spinetta said: "We certainly made the right decision not to equip the aircraft fleet with GPWS." At the time, the airline had justified its decision by fitting head-up displays for its pilots, saying this would be a more effective safety measure.
Six French aviation officials went on trial in May over the fatal crash 14 years ago. Officials from the airline, the aircraft manufacturer and French civil aviation authority DGAC, as well as the military air traffic controller on duty, were indicted on the charge of involuntarily causing death and injuries. A judgment is expected to be delivered by the Colmar court on 7 November.
Repeating comments made earlier this year before the Colmar court, Spinetta told delegates: "I have thought a lot about it since 1992, but the presence of a GPWS system, unfortunately, would not have prevented the drama."
At the time, it was not mandatory to install a GPWS in French aircraft, although its absence 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.
As Air Inter president, Spinetta approved the decision not to install the warning systems because it was believed they were prone to give false alarms, which crews therefore sometimes ignored.
The Strasbourg crash happened in January 1992 when the A320 struck a ridge at about 2,600ft (790m) while attempting a VOR/DME approach, killing 87 of the 96 passengers and crew. The 1994 accident report included several safety recommendations and stated that the crew may have configured one of the A320's autopilot control switches wrongly when choosing between the "flight path angle" and "vertical speed" modes for the descent toward the airport.
Spinetta said he welcomed the decision in early October by a Strasbourg court, which threw out a lawsuit by families of the victims who were trying to sue the French government for €14 million ($17.7 million), accusing it of dragging out the court case.
"I am convinced that safety in air transport has made such progress in so many fields," said Spinetta. "However, when we do have accidents, it is always very difficult to unravel the chain of events and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find out what happened even after a very detailed examination."