FRENCH PROCESS AND COURT VERDICT ALL WRONG

Dino D'Amore
By Dino D'Amore December 7, 2010 10:47

FRENCH PROCESS AND COURT VERDICT ALL WRONG

As you will most be well aware, yesterday a French court in Pontoise backed a French air investigation that concluded a stray strip of super-hard titanium from a Continental DC10 set off a catastrophic chain of events: shredding a tyre of an Air France Concorde as it roared down the runway at 175 knots (201mph), sending rubber into the fuel tank, which caught fire and caused the aircraft to crash killing 113 people in 2000.

These facts are well established and there is no argument over the same. But as with all things someone has to be to blame. The reality is that this process of events could happen at any time on any runway in the world the difference is that the Concorde had a known problem with burst tyres puncturing fuel tanks. This being the case you would think that any blame would be squarely laid at the door of the operator and the manufacturer of the Concorde who both knew of the possible problem. At a stretch it could be argued in law that the airport operator was to blame as their runway had dangerous debris on it. So we have to wonder why it is that the French court decided from the off that Air France and the airport operator was not on trial. In fact Air France had joined the case as a civil plaintiff in the hope of obtaining €15 million in damages, including those for damage to its reputation from Continental.

Continental was ordered to pay €1 million (£847,000) to Air France and a €200,000 fine after the court declared it criminally responsible for the accident; ruling that Continental Airlines and one of its mechanics were guilty of involuntary homicide concerning the deaths of 100 passengers, nine crew, and four people on the ground.

John Taylor, a mechanic who installed the titanium strip was fined €2,000 and given a suspended 15-month prison sentence. His supervisor, Stanley Ford, who was accused of approving the work without checking it, was acquitted.

Henri Perrier, a French Aérospatiale executive (nicknamed the “father” of Concorde), and two other French officials, Jacques Hérubel and Claude Frantzen, formerly of the French airline regulator who certified the aircraft’s airworthiness, were also cleared of blame.

Perrier, who was head of the Concorde programme at Aérospatiale had been accused of ignoring warnings about the safety of the aircraft during its 27 years in service after a string of incidents involving exploding Concorde tyres.

The court declared the officials were guilty of “no serious misconduct” having made changes to strengthen Concord’s tyres, but not the fuel tanks whose rupture was instrumental in the 2000 crash.

Afterwards Olivier Metzner, the French lawyer for Continental, attacked the ruling saying: “It serves only to protect French interests. Justice in France must be handed down in the name of the French people. This morning it was handed down in the name of French patriotism.”

The Continental response sums it all up quite nicely: “While we agree with the court’s decision that Stanley Ford was innocent of the charges he faced and we share his relief that his decade-long nightmare is over, we strongly disagree with the court’s verdict regarding Continental Airlines and John Taylor and will of course appeal this absurd finding.  Portraying the metal strip as the cause of the accident and Continental and one of its employees as the sole guilty parties shows the determination of the French authorities to shift attention and blame away from Air France, which was government-owned at the time and operated and maintained the aircraft, as well as from the French authorities responsible for the Concorde’s airworthiness and safety.  To find that any crime was committed in this tragic accident is not supported either by the evidence at trial or by aviation authorities and experts around the world.”

Sometimes the blame game can get in the way of reality. This time it got political.

Dino D'Amore
By Dino D'Amore December 7, 2010 10:47
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