2005-12-16 / Community

Former Airbus VP Charged In A320 Crash

By Howard Schwach


Eighty-four people died when this Airbus A320 crashed while landing in France. Reports say that a former Airbus Industries vice president has been indicted for involuntary manslaughter for keeping a design flaw quiet.Eighty-four people died when this Airbus A320 crashed while landing in France. Reports say that a former Airbus Industries vice president has been indicted for involuntary manslaughter for keeping a design flaw quiet. A French newspaper reported this week that Bernard Ziegler, once the chief test pilot and vice president of engineering for Airbus Industries, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in relation to a 1992 crash of an Airbus A320 airliner in Colmar, France.

On January 20, 1992, Air Inter Flight 148, an Airbus A320-11, crashed during a landing at Colmar, a town of 100,000 near Strasbourg, nearby the border with Germany and Switzerland.

According to investigators, the cause of the crash was the faulty design of an autopilot mode selector switch that led the flight crew to inadvertently choose the wrong descent rate and angle.

Now, however, according to Le Figaro, one of France’s leading newspapers, Ziegler and others from Airbus are charged with involuntary manslaughter because, according to the story, Airbus knew of the problem long before the crash and ignored the problem under orders from the chief engineer.

According to the Flight Safety Foundation, Ziegler was the most influential figure in the development of the cockpit control systems for the Airbus airliners. He began his career as a fighter pilot for the French Air Force prior to moving to Airbus, where he became the airplane manufacturer’s chief pilot and then its vice president for engineering. As a test pilot he flew the first flights of the A300, A310, A320 and A340 aircraft.

He retired from Airbus in 2004.

The A300 model that Ziegler first flew on October 28, 1972, was the same model as American Airlines Flight 587, which crashed in Belle Harbor in November of 2001 when the tail separated from the body of the airliner.

The National Transportation Safety Board blamed the crash on the “aggressive and unnecessary” over-controlling of the rudder controls, thereby ripping the tail from the plane.

Those rudder controls were reportedly designed by Ziegler in his position as chief engineer for Airbus. There have been reports in the media that Airbus knew in advance that the rudder control design was faulty but covered it up.

A number of families of the victims of American Airlines Flight 587 are fighting in Federal Court in Brooklyn to reopen the discovery process that would force Airbus to provide documents that would prove or disprove that contention once and for all, according to attorneys for the plaintiffs in that case, but Federal Judge Robert Sweet has held up the discovery process in the hopes that all of the families would settle with a consortium of Airbus and American Airlines.

That discovery process is reportedly at least a year and a half away.

The French case, however, could reopen the process more quickly.

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