chapter  11
14 Pages

Rethinking professional responsibility: matters of account


In June 2009, Air France Airbus fl ight 447 crashed in the Atlantic Ocean en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. All 216 passengers and 12 crew members were killed, making it the worst accident in the history of French aviation. The fi nal report of the crash investigation (AF 2012 ) listed a number of mingled factors. Apparently ice formed inside the small ‘pitot tubes’ on the plane’s underside, interfering with the airspeed sensors. These caused the autopilot to disconnect, and the (human) pilots assumed manual control of the aircraft. Over the next three minutes, the pilot increased and then levelled the plane’s nose-up pitch in response to a series of inconsistent air speed readings and intermittent stall warnings being received. However the fl ight path had become ‘destabilised’, leading to a stall and rapid descent. In the fi nal report, the pilot’s actions were described as ‘inappropriate control inputs’ (AF 2012 ), but this was only one dimension in an interwoven assemblage of technological, material, and human forces that together resulted in a horrifi c crash. Nonetheless, aviation experts interviewed in an analysis of these events placed the central accountability on human error: the key problem, they stressed, was inadequate pilot competency on manual landings, and inadequate pilot training (BBC 2012 ).