Re: More on Air-Inter charges

From:         Pete Mellor <>
Date:         05 Feb 93 13:55:02 PST
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Peter Ladkin reports: 

> In Le Monde for Wednesday Jan 20th p15, there are two articles on the Air
> Inter crash. One states that the company president, M. Jean-Cyril Spinetta,
> has demanded that he be indicted on the same charges as his safety officer, 
> M. Jacques Rantet. 

Under French law, once he is charged, M. Rantet and his lawyers would have 
access to the prosecution's dossier. It can therefore be an advantage to a 
defendant or potential defendant to be formally charged sooner rather than 
later, in order to be able to make representations to the investigating 
magistrate, whose task is to establish the facts of the case, and in order to 
be able to prepare an effective defence. 

Michel Asseline, the captain who was charged after the Habsheim crash, gives 
the apparently paradoxical advice to anyone who finds themselves in a similar 
predicament that they should request formal charges to be brought as soon as 
possible, for that reason. (Michel Asseline: "Le pilote: est-il coupable", 
Edition #1, Paris, Sep. 1992) 

Regarding the rest of the report (I have not seen the original "Le Monde" 
article), it is true that Air Inter was operating entirely within the 
regulations then in force for French internal flights in not having GPWS 
installed. It is inconceivable that either a change in the law or a ministerial 
decree could be made to apply retrospectively, therefore the basis of the 
charge must be other than merely "not using GPWS". 

>  since the agreed cause is controlled flight into terrain (CFIT), 

Although I have also heard this from informed sources, I am not aware that 
this is the officially agreed cause. The final report on the Strasbourg crash 
should be out soon (or may already be out), but we don't know the "official" 
cause until we have seen it. (Peter: if you have heard anything about its 
publication, please let me know!) 

CFIT is, IMHO, no more satisfactory as a "cause" of the accident than simple 
"pilot error". 

> human factors engineering + software safety questions + system design 
> questions + lack of established engineering practice or terminology + humans
> in the loop ----> go to court to try to blame someone.
> If this is to become the system engineering process model of the 90s, it's
> going to put the field back 20 years.

I agree, but it has a long and distinguished history, e.g., the Tay Bridge 
disaster, after which the chief engineer Thomas Bouche was convicted. (Or 
maybe he was just found primarily responsible by the court of enquiry - anyway 
he never parcised again, and died a broken man.) 

There are occasions when people should be taken to court. The problem is to 
find out what *all* the *real* causes were, apportion blame appropriately, and 
make sure that all the *right* people end up in court. 

> P.S. What on earth is the appropriate word for `anticipable'?


Peter Mellor, Centre for Software Reliability, City University, Northampton 
Sq., London EC1V 0HB, Tel: +44(0)71-477-8422, JANET: