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Inquiry into New York-Paris ‘lost control’ flight suggests pilot error

The Air France jet took off again just 340 metres off the ground as it came in for landing in what an inquiry has termed ‘a serious incident’. It was initially blamed on a technical error 

An Air France plane with its landing gear visible over Paris Charles de Gaulle airport

The Air France plane was just over 300 metres off the ground when the pilots said “stop, stop!” and took off again, reattempting the landing successfully 20 minutes later Pic: Soos Jozsef / Shutterstock

An inquiry into an Air France flight from New York to Paris that “lost control” on its landing descent has suggested that the fault was caused by pilot error.

What happened?

The incident happened on a Boeing 777 Air France flight from New York-JFK to Paris Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle, one of five daily flights on this route, on April 5.

Read more: Inquiry after New York-Paris flight 'loses control' on landing descent 

The flight AF011 was on its final approach to runway 26L when the pilots noticed that the plane was no longer responding to controls, and was deviating to the left. At this point, the plane was around 340 metres up.

In order to avoid a serious incident, the pilots were forced to accelerate hard and rise up again and circulate above the airport. A second landing attempt was made 20 minutes later on another runway, and took place without a problem.

Visibility was limited by poor weather conditions requiring a landing with the use of alignment instruments.

In a recording from the cockpit at the time of the incident, an alarm sounds and one of the pilots can be heard saying “Stop! Stop!”. The air traffic controller then asks calmly for details, and the pilot, clearly stressed, responds: “I’ll call you back”. 

Later, in the recording from the cockpit, the pilot can be heard saying that the plane was no longer responding to controls and “just did basically whatever [it wanted], so...”

Air traffic control confirmed that he had seen the flight “going to the left”. The pilots then requested to land on another runway, which was confirmed, authorised and took place without incident.

There were 177 passengers on board plus 15 crew.

What has the inquiry found? 

An inquiry opened into the event qualified it as “a serious incident”. 

A report from agency le Bureau d'enquêtes et d'analyses (BEA), released on April 27, suggested that “pilot responsibility”, rather than a technical failure, caused the issue.

The BEA said: “No error alarm went off during the incident [to suggest technical problems]. No anomaly was detected on the plane.”

It said that until the pilots decided to take off again just 340 metres off the ground, the plane’s ”trajectory remained within the operator's stabilisation criteria”.

The report continued that the angle of the re-acceleration was too high for this type of manoeuvre, which caused synchronisation issues with the controls, which the pilots did not acknowledge at the time.

What has Air France’s response been to the incident?

Questioned on the incident by the AFP, Air France said that it is "continuing to cooperate fully with the investigation". 

In a statement issued immediately after the incident, Air France said that the flight crew had "aborted their landing sequence and performed a go-around due to a technical incident during the approach. The crew controlled the situation and landed normally after a second approach”.

The statement added that acceleration and performing a “go around” is a relatively “normal procedure” during landing, and that “crews are trained and regularly made aware of these procedures, which are used by all airlines to guarantee the safety of flights and passengers, which is an absolute necessity for Air France”.

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