The final report by the French Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses (BEA) has confirmed that icing in angle of attack sensors and pilot error were the main contributing factors to the fatal crash of an Air New Zealand Airbus A320 off the coast of France in November 2008.
The aircraft crashed while involved in an end of lease test flight shortly before the aircraft was to be handed back to Air New Zealand from German carrier XL Airways. Two XL Airways pilots, two Air New Zealand staff and one inspector from the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority were killed when the aircraft plunged into the Mediterranean Sea while on approach to land at Perignon.
The BEA report says that icing in an angle of attack sensor on the A320 was likely to have been caused during a cleaning of the aircraft where incorrect procedures resulted in water entering the probe. As a result, the aircraft’s protection systems could not be triggered as the pilots of the aircraft undertook a low speed test of the protection system.
The report also noted that the aircraft should not have been at such a low altitude (around 3000ft) while conducting the test flight, which gave the pilots little margin to recover from a stall. The two XL Airways pilots flying the aircraft at the time had no experience in test flying, while confused communications between the two pilots and an Air New Zealand pilot overseeing the test flight also made the flight more difficult.
In its safety recommendations, the BEA recommended greater regulations to cover non-revenue flights and that EASA also “require non-revenue flights be described precisely in the approved parts of the operations manual, this description specifically determining their preparation, program and operational framework as well as the qualifications and training of crews.”
Air New Zealand CEO Rob Fyfe welcomed the findings of the report and the call for greater regulation of non-revenue flights, saying that it would “ultimately further improve safety in one of the most cautious and risk-adverse industries in the world.”
“Check flights are completed every day by airlines across the globe but as highlighted in the report there is no regulated standard,” he added. “We have been operating to the manufacturer’s standard, in accordance with industry practice and with approval of our own NZ CAA, but clearly a regulatory framework to create consistency and further minimise the opportunity for a tragedy like this to happen is needed.”