US airline calls foul as court blames it for Concorde crash
Published 07/12/2010 | 05:00
Continental Airlines last night claimed to be the victim of a "patriotic" French justice system after it was found guilty of causing the crash of a Concorde jet while French air officials and the national carrier were acquitted.
Ten years after the accident that claimed 113 lives and ended Concorde's career, the court fined the American airline e200,000 and handed a 15-month suspended prison sentence to one of its mechanics, John Taylor, for "involuntary manslaughter".
The Houston-based airline was ordered to pay more than e1m to Air France, which flew the ill-fated Concorde, for damaging the French carrier's "brand image".
It was also ordered to pay 70pc of damages to victims' families, with EADS, the successor to Concorde's parent group, told to pay the remaining 30pc.
Compensation could run to e1.2m -- the amount already handed out by Air France and its insurers to about 700 family members, which the French airline can now demand be reimbursed.
Flight 4590 to New York ploughed into a hotel in a ball of fire shortly after take-off from Charles de Gaulle on July 25, 2000. Judges agreed that the crash was caused by a metal strip that fell off a Continental plane and on to the runway shortly before the doomed Concorde took off. Mr Taylor (42) had made and wrongly installed the titanium strip.
Confirming that Continental would appeal, the airline's top lawyer, Olivier Metzner, criticised what he called a "patriotic" ruling designed to spare the French defendants and convict only the Americans.
"(Justice) was done in the name of French patriotism," he said. "This is a protectionist ruling in the sole interests of France. This has strayed from the truth of law and justice."
A Continental spokesman said the "absurd" ruling "shows the determination of the French authorities to shift attention and blame away from Air France", noting that Air France was state-run at the time.
This view was shared by Roland Rappaport, a lawyer for the family of the Concorde pilot, Christian Marty, who said a previous judicial investigation had shown French officials were aware of Concorde's design faults two decades before the crash.
Three French aviation officials, including Henri Perrier, 81, one of the fathers of Concorde, were acquitted. Mr Perrier -- who ran the Concorde programme at Aerospatiale, now part of EADS, from 1978 to 1994 -- had been accused of ignoring warning signs from a series of tyre incidents on Concorde before the disaster. Design changes were made to strengthen the jet's tyres but not the fuel tanks.
EADS was found to bear some civil responsibility.
Continental had argued that the fire had started before the jet hit the metal strip on the runway, that Air France's maintenance was negligent and that the Concorde was "unfit to fly".
But after a four-month trial, the court at Pontoise, Paris, ruled that "none of the evidence collected or witness testimony corroborates" such a theory. It found Continental guilty of "defective maintenance".
Aviation industry officials warned that the trial could discourage airlines from sharing safety information that could prevent future accidents. "© Daily Telegraph, London)