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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.

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