Re: Habsheim accident (was: Re: Airbus Safer?)

Date:         02 Sep 98 01:07:57 
From:         Pete Mellor <>
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Every so often the Habsheim crash rears its ugly head again,
and every time most of the people get a lot of the facts wrong.
Michel Asseline, the pilot, has written "Le Pilote Est-il Coupable",
his own account of the events. He points out several factors other
than technical ones which led up to the crash, and to the resulting

There was enormous political pressure from government level
down to make the A320 a conspicuous success. Asseline was
under personal pressure, since he was the chief training
pilot in Air France, the "reference airline" for A320 sales.
Both he, and the aircraft that crashed, were removed from a
busy schedule to perform the fly-past at the Habsheim flying
club's annual air show.

Air France took the decision to provide a fly-past at the
request of the air show organisers. They did so in order to
take advantage of a great opportunity for publicity, but it
was also a commercial transaction. The air show paid a hefty
fee to Air France, who further increased their profits by
filling the 'plane with day-trippers. None of this was due
to any decision by Asseline.

The schedule was tight, and this was the reason why no proper
briefing on the airfield was given to the crew. In fact, there
was no briefing. An AF operative simply left a black-and-white
photocopy of a coloured original map along with brief written
instructions. There was no time to visit the airfield on foot
first and reconnoitre.

The flight was planned: first pass at 100 feet, flaps and gear
down, nose-up attitude, low speed (deliberately to demonstrate
the ability of the FCS to maintain safe flight close to stall).
The second pass was to be at 300 feet, level attitude, clean
configuration, high speed (so the crowd could say "Wow!").

The first pass took place at 30 feet because the baro-altimeter
was giving a reading 70 feet out. They did not know about the
trees because of the lack of pre-flight briefing, monochrome
map (the trees were in green on the original) and lack of a
pre-flight visit.

At this point, there is usually a big row because all the pilots
on the list ask how the hell an experienced pilot could mistake
30 feet for 100 feet. I'm not getting into that one again right
now, but Asseline does offer an explanation in his book.

For a detailed account of the crash, see my paper "CAD:
Computer-Aided Disaster" and/or Peter Ladkin's website.

Asseline has not yet gone to jail, but he is about to
exhaust the appeal procedures. (Watch this space for further

Pete Mellor, CSR, City University

On 23 Aug 1998, Frank Muenker wrote:

> schrieb in Nachricht ...
> >Karl Swartz <kls@ohare.Chicago.COM> writes:
> >>>Or the airshow crash of an A-320 whose computers would not allow the
> >>>pilot to perfofm a go-around because the airplane was in landing
> >>>configuration.
> >>
> >>That would be the Habsheim crash on June 26, 1988, but there has never
> >>been any clear evidence of the crash being the result of anything other
> >>than the pilots putting the plane into a predicament they couldn't get
> >>it out of.  There are, however, a lot of inconsistencies between what
> >>the DGAC report on this crash says and various witness accounts and
> >>third-party analyses.  Still, there's not sufficient basis for your
> >
> >There was an article in AW&ST a few months ago discussing the possibility
> >that the inflight data recorder was switched after the crash. This
> >conclusion was reached based on the pattern of strips on the casings of
> >the recorder that was supposed to be in place, and the one actually found
> >(or planted).
> there are basically 2 things to mention about this accident:
> 1. It was the probably most stupid and most careless thing somebody ever
> did in the history of aviation.
> 2. When a brand new aircraft crashes during an air show, it's the probably
> worst thing that can happen to an aircraft manufacturer. Therefore they
> tried everything to blame the pilots and take the fault away from the
> aircraft.
> What they did was to fly an A320 over a field in front of the spectators at
> about 30ft altitude with minimum speed, minimum thrust and nose way up. The
> situation where you are very close to a stall. The computer was flying and
> everything was just fine, BUT: What the pilot forgot was to check the
> terrain on the map. There were 60 ft trees ahead and since they were flying
> nose up he didn't see them on time. And when he saw the trees he performed a
> go-around but it was too late and they crashed into the trees. Hard to
> believe but true.
> The other unbelievable thing was that they took passengers (!!!) on this
> trip. They made a tombola and the *winners* got a ride on this flight. What
> a test pilot does is one thing but taking passengers on a flight where you
> intentionally go to the limits of an aircraft is something completely
> different.
> For point 2: The Airbus executives denied at any time that they told the
> pilot to perform this stunt, while the pilot said they did.
> But at the end they sacrificed the pilot who eventually went into jail. I
> don't doubt that they removed the flight recorder, just in case. But the
> pilot always said the aircraft was fine and that it was just too late for
> the go-around. And he really didn't have any reason to *protect* airbus
> after everything that happened.
> Cheers
> Frank