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

Date:         09 Sep 98 04:12:20 
From:         Pete Mellor <>
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Stefano Pagiola <> wrote on Wed Sep  2 10:10:58 1998:-
> Throw in factors such as the in-grained animosity of many pilots
> against computers which they perceive as taking their jobs away, ...

Until Habsheim, Asseline was gung-ho in favour of the A320, and
had made himself extremely unpopular with the flight engineers'
union for totally backing the use of two-man crews.

> The decision to
> put the plane there was the pilot's and so the responsibility for the
> accident must rest primarily with him.

He followed the flight plan he was handed by Air France. The fact
that he was at 30 feet and not 100 feet as planned was a combination
of instrument failure and (it must be said) pilot error in not
detecting the low altitude from external visual clues. However,
neither captain (Asseline: PF) nor FO (Pierre Mazieres: PNF) noticed
the discrepancy. In fact, just before the 'plane leveled out for the
fly-past, the FO announced to the captain that they were just about
to descend to 100 feet (source: CVR transcript in official accident

The decision to fly with a 'plane load of day-trippers was likewise
a decision by the management of Air France. Of course (I hear everyone
say) if the captain thought he was being asked to endanger passengers'
lives, he had the right (not to mention the duty) to refuse to undertake
the flight as ordered. This might not have improved his career
prospects with AF. However, the main reason he did not refuse was
that he did not think it was dangerous. He had been trained (and had
trained dozens of other AF pilots in turn) that the safety protections
provided by the FCS could be relied upon absolutely in order to get
out of any conceivable trouble that the 'plane could get into.

> Had the pilot succeeded in climbing
> above the trees and avoiding an accident, I would still have fired him.

Had he been at the planned height, he'd have missed the trees by 70 feet.
Had he just missed the trees, there would probably been palpitations
in the boardroom and possibly an internal enquiry in AF, but nothing
that would have jeopardised PR.

As captain, Asseline bore the brunt of the blame, had his licence
yanked immediately, and faced criminal proceedings. The fact that
he showed "attitude" did not help his case. (The FO was also charged,
but made no public statement whatsoever. He continued to fly for AF.)

Peter Mellor, Centre for Software Reliability, City University, Northampton
Square, London EC1V 0HB, UK. Tel: +44 (171) 477-8422, Fax: +44 (171) 477-8585
E-mail:, Web: