A new report published May 27 by French air accident investigators has shed some light on the final turbulent minutes of Air France Flight 447 before it crashed into the Atlantic, taking the lives of all 228 passengers on board. While the report does clear up some of the confusion that's surrounded the crash since June 2009, it also casts doubt on whether the pilots on board took the proper course of action.
The Wall Street Journal noted that "the report paints a somewhat unflattering picture of a seemingly confused cockpit...at one point, according to the report, both pilots sitting in front of the controls tried to put in simultaneous commands. The plane only accepts one of them."
Air France quickly responded with a formal press release, which pointedly honored its employees who died in the line of duty. The airline said, in effect, that whatever details continue to emerge, it will honor the professionalism of and risks taken by all of its in-flight employees.
"This description of the facts therefore replaces the assumptions that have been made over the past two years," Air France said in its statement. "It appears that the flight deck crew was monitoring the changing weather conditions and thus altered the flight path, that the initial problem was the failure of the speed probes which led to the disconnection of the autopilot and the loss of the associated piloting protection systems, and that the aircraft stalled at high altitude. It also appears that the flight captain quickly interrupted his rest period to regain the cockpit. The crew, made up of three skilled pilots, demonstrated a totally professional attitude and were committed to carrying out their task to the very end and Air France wishes to pay tribute to them."
David A. Kalson, CEO of Ricochet Public Relations, gives Air France high marks for its response to the investigators' report. "Air France addressed constructively a very serious situation where their company’s most fundamental capabilities—its pilots—are in question," Kalson tells PR News.
Kalson says that the opening paragraph of the Air France press release took the right tone. "It establishes the company’s humanity by first and foremost being considerate of the families of those who died. Without this first paragraph there would have been no credibility, or acceptance, of any cold, technical explanation that might follow."
The statement then keeps to the high road, says Kalson, and doesn't fall into a trap of getting defensive. "Instead, the company’s statement protects its people and the company by counseling the need for patience—it uses the word more than once—to analyze the data properly and patience to wait for the interim report. But, and very importantly, they do say that steps are being taken now to improve flight safety for everyone, making their actions a benefit to a greater public interest. It’s the best statement they could have made."