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Airbus and Air France ordered to stand trial over 2009 crash

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Air France (AIRF.PA) and Airbus (AIR.PA) should stand trial for involuntary manslaughter over their role in a 2009 crash in the Atlantic that killed 228 people, the Paris court of appeal ruled on Wednesday. (12 May)

The ruling reverses a 2019 decision not to prosecute either company over the accident, in which the pilots lost control of the Airbus A330 jet after ice blocked its airspeed sensors.

Victims' families welcomed the ruling, but Airbus and Air France said they would seek to overturn it at the Cour de Cassation, France's highest appeal court.

"The court decision that has just been announced does not reflect in any way the conclusions of the investigation," Airbus said in an emailed statement.

Air France logo is pictured at the Air France check-in at Bordeaux-Merignac airport, as Air France pilots, cabin and ground crews unions call for a strike over salaries in Merignac near Bordeaux, France April 7, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau
The Airbus logo pictured at the company's headquarters in Blagnac near Toulouse, France, March 20, 2019.  REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

Air France "maintains that it committed no criminal fault at the root of this tragic accident", said a spokesman for the carrier, which is part of Air France-KLM.

Air France flight AF447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed on 1 June, 2009, killing everyone on board.

French investigators found that the crew had mishandled the situation arising from the loss of speed data from sensors blocked with ice and caused an aerodynamic stall by holding the aircraft's nose too high.

The earlier decision not to go to trial drew legal challenges from the families as well as pilot unions and prosecutors who had pursued charges against Air France alone.

Wednesday's ruling upheld new demands for a trial of both companies from senior prosecutors who have accused Air France of pilot training failures and Airbus for underestimating dangers posed by known problems with the speed sensors.

Aviation Strategy for Europe

Aviation: EU and ASEAN conclude the world's first bloc-to-bloc Air Transport Agreement

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The European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have concluded negotiations on the ASEAN-EU Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement (AE CATA). This is the world's first bloc-to-bloc air transport agreement, which will bolster connectivity and economic development among the 37 member states of ASEAN and the EU. Under the agreement, EU airlines will be able to fly up to 14 weekly passenger services, and any number of cargo services, via and beyond any ASEAN country, and vice versa. 

Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean said: “The conclusion of this first-ever ‘bloc-to-bloc' air transport agreement marks an important milestone in the EU's external aviation policy. It provides essential guarantees of fair competition for our European airlines and industry, while strengthening reciprocal prospects for trade and investment in some of the world's most dynamic markets. Importantly, this new agreement also provides us with a solid platform to continue promoting the high standards on safety, security, air traffic management, environment and social matters going forward. I am grateful for the constructive approach of all parties involved, which made this historic deal possible.” 

The Agreement will help rebuild air connectivity between ASEAN countries and Europe, which has decreased sharply due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and open up new growth opportunities for the aviation industry in both regions. Both parties expressed intent to maintain regular discussions and close coordination to minimise disruptions to air services caused by the pandemic. ASEAN and the EU will now submit the AE CATA for legal scrubbing in preparation for signature at a later date. A joint statement on the Conclusion of the ASEAN-EU Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement (AE CATA) has been published here

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EU bans Belarusian carriers from its airspace and airports

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The Council today (4 June) decided to strengthen the existing restrictive measures in relation to Belarus by introducing a ban on the overflight of EU airspace and on access to EU airports by Belarusian carriers of all kinds.

EU member states will deny Belarusian air carriers (and marketing carriers who have a codeshare with a Belarusian carrier) permission to land in, take off from or overfly their territories.

Today’s decision follows up on the European Council conclusions of 24 and 25 May 2021, in which EU heads of state and government strongly condemned the unlawful forced landing of a Ryanair flight in Minsk on 23 May 2021 endangering aviation safety.

The downing of the Ryanair flight in Minsk was carried out with the express intent of detaining journalist Raman Pratasevich who has been critical of Lukashenko’s regime and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega.

The Council is also assessing possible additional listings of persons and entities on the basis of the relevant sanctions framework, and further targeted economic sanctions.

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EU to blacklist Belarus airline ahead of economic sanctions, diplomats say

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European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium May 5, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman

The European Union is preparing sanctions on Belarus' national airline and around a dozen top Belarusian aviation officials, three diplomats said, a stop-gap measure before economic sanctions following the forced landing of a passenger plane, writes Robin Emmott.

The proposed asset freezes and travel bans are part of a package of new sanctions on Belarus from EU states, which are outraged that a Ryanair flight was pressed to land in Minsk on 23 May to arrest a dissident journalist and his girlfriend.

EU governments, which described the incident as state piracy, say they are looking at targeting sectors that play a central role in the Belarus economy, to inflict real punishment on President Alexander Lukashenko. They could include bond sales, the oil sector and potash, a big Belarusian export.

Before imposing such economic sanctions, the bloc is expected to agree by June 21 - when EU foreign ministers meet - a smaller sanctions list on individuals and two entities as a quick, intermediary response, the diplomats said.

"All EU states agree with this approach," one diplomat said. A second diplomat said there would be "a clear signal for Lukashenko that his actions were dangerous and unacceptable".

While the sanctions are still under discussion, EU ambassadors as early as Friday could pre-approve banning overflights and landing in EU territory by Belarus airlines, allowing EU ministers to formally sign off on them later in the month.

Britain, no longer part of the EU, has suspended the air permit for Belarus' national carrier, Belavia. The EU is expected to do the same, the diplomats said.

The names are expected to include top Belarus' defence and transport ministry officials, military from the airforce, a top Minsk airport official and a senior civil aviation official, the diplomats said.

Also to be blacklisted and banned from business with the EU is another state-owned enterprise from the aviation sector.

More details were not immediately available. The EU does not comment publicly on ongoing preparations for sanctions.

Lukashenko said last week the journalist pulled off the plane had been plotting a rebellion, and he accused the West of waging a hybrid war against him. Read more

Since cracking down on pro-democracy protests last year, he has withstood three previous rounds of EU sanctions and comparable U.S. measures - mainly blacklists that bar officials from travelling to or doing business in Europe and the United States.

EU foreign ministers said last week that fresh sanctions would include a fourth round of travel bans and asset freezes linked to a disputed presidential election in Belarus last August. The around a dozen names are separate and directly linked to the Ryanair incident.

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