Two Pilots Reportedly Threw Hands Aboard An Air France Flight, Raising Some Serious Safety Concerns

Air France Fight Topshot

Normally when you hear a story about a fight on a plane, it’s a case of badly-behaved passengers mucking things up for everyone. Commercial air travel already isn’t fun, and unruly passengers can sometimes feel like just another fly in the ointment. However, a story out of France reminds us that things could be worse than watching one passenger fling things at people. Much, much worse.

Two Air France pilots are reportedly under suspension after physically fighting each other in the cockpit after takeoff. French newspaper La Tribune reported that one pilot struck the other before the pilots grabbed each other by the collars and an object was thrown. Cabin crew reportedly intervened and one crew member is said to have acted as a sort of peacemaker for the duration of the flight.

The altercation is said to have taken place in June on a flight from Geneva to Paris and is giving shades of Beavis and Butthead Do America, only the people who are supposed to be flying the damn plane are the ones out of pocket. The cabin crew members who had to step in may have seen similar behavior from passengers, but the idea of pilots fighting beggars belief.

[Editor’s Note: Clearly Thomas has never wagered on illegal underground pilot fights held late at night in regional airports all over the world – JT]

Air France A330 fight (6)

An in-cabin fight seems like a fairly big safety issue, so it shouldn’t be surprising that Air France is reportedly experiencing other safety incidents. La Tribune also reports of two instances when Air France pilots forgot to fire up engines prior to takeoff, [Editor’s Note: How does that happen? – JT] while BEA, France’s air safety bureau, recently released some information on a fuel leak that happened in late 2020 aboard an Air France Airbus A330 from Brazzaville, Congo to Paris. Here’s what the BEA report has to say.

On reaching the en-route level FL 380, the crew detected that they were lacking around 1.4 t of fuel in the fuel tanks. They monitored the evolution in the fuel quantities. Before the captain left the cockpit for his rest period a few minutes later, he asked the co-pilots to monitor the changes in the fuel quantities. Around twenty minutes later, the co-pilots called him back as they were now lacking around 2.1 t of fuel.

Missing a Lincoln Town Car in fuel shortly after takeoff seems pretty sketchy, and typical safety procedure is to shut down the engine on the side of the plane that fuel is most likely leaking from. Unfortunately, BEA says that didn’t happen, even as the flight turned around for a landing.

The crew turned around in the turnaround bay at the end of the runway and then shut down engine 1 (left engine) while taxiing to the parking area. The crew brought the aeroplane to a halt in the parking area and shut down engine 2 . The fire fighters who had taken up a position close to the aeroplane on it landing intervened after engine 2 had been shut down by spraying water under engine 1. The passengers disembarked without any further incident.

While it’s nice to know that the passengers were able to carry on with their days, flouting proper safety procedure is not a good look for Air France and raises some serious questions about the airline’s culture of safety. I understand that the past few years have been really stressful and unusual for the airline industry, but that’s no excuse for cutting corners.

Airfrance A330 (2)

Equally troubling is Air France’s statement to The Guardian on recent incidents, which comes across as rather flippant and defensive.

Air France said it was carrying out a safety audit in response. It pledged to follow the BEA’s recommendations, which include allowing pilots to study their flights afterward and making training manuals stricter about sticking to procedure.

The airline noted that it flew thousands of flights daily and the report mentioned only four such safety incidents.

Air France pilots unions have insisted that security is paramount to all pilots and defended pilot actions during emergency situations.

While a statement on following BEA recommendations is nice, defending pilots flouting safety procedures during emergencies isn’t a good look. Air France needs to be held accountable for misconduct in the name of passenger safety and airline industry integrity. If flouting of safety procedure ends up brushed off for a flag bearing airline, what message does that send smaller players?

All photos courtesy of Air France

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31 Responses

  1. “La Tribune reported that one pilot struck the other before the pilots grabbed each other by the collars and an object was thrown”

    Why am I getting visions of Ricky-Bobby and the whole altercation ended in a warm embrace and a big, wet smooch?

  2. So… the airline is auditing this, but no word about any police involvement? Because I feel like if I got caught having a boxing match behind the wheel going down the road at highway speed I’d quite probably end up in front of a judge.

  3. Over/under on how many times “Sacre bleu!” was shouted during the fight? I’m going with 10 and taking the over, because you have to consider the pilots, the crew who intervened, and at least the first 2 rows of passengers who would have known some shit was going down.

    1. And what Air France did to Concorde. In the late 1990s, Air France was bleeding a lot of money (typical French thing) and was deferring the maintenance a lot of time along with the failure to beef up the tyres and install the shields which it should have done years before. Its CEO was given the ultimatum by the government: give up Concorde or give up the infusion of public money. After the expensive project of lining the fuel tanks with Kelvar, Concorde needed the major upgrade to the avionics which would cost about $40 million for the entire fleet.

      The CEO was so green with jealousy that British Airways was doing very well with its Concorde service (it actually turned profit due to both London and New York being the financial cities). He happened to have a very close friend who happened to be the Airbus CEO so one little favour led to Airbus rescinding the operation certification for Concorde.

      Source: “Supersonic Secrets: The Unofficial Biography of Concorde”(2003) by Rob Lewis.

  4. In regards to the lining up for take off without all engines running issue, most airliners taxi out on a single engine to save fuel, starting the other just before take off.

    Skipping the before take off checklist is very unprofessional but modern planes have alarms to alert the pilots the plane isn’t configured for take off.

      1. It’s kept at low thrust for this reason and is easily countered by the nose wheel steering. But starting from a stop, it’s usually best practice to turn only the direction opposite of the engine running.

  5. C’mon I am sure everything is perfectly fine and safe. After all the pilots are in an union and the union said the pilots were doing everything properly.
    I don’t remember isn’t Air France operated by the government? If so everything is gold because government should run everything and only union people are not only the only qualified people but infallible.

    1. You remember that website a lot of us came here from, the one where the positives and negatives of unions, governments and other related subjects were debated endlessly despite it being theoretically a site devoted to vehicles? Many of us left that place just because of people like you constantly dragging in unrelated subjects as an excuse to jump on their political hobby horses. Left? Right? I truly don’t care. A pox on both your houses. Now get thee back to Jalopnik!

      1. Dave appears to be the resident right-wing troll around these parts now.

        They seem to spread by diffusion, colonizing new forums when they appear. Only stopping when the host is dead and moving on to infect other previously healthy locations of discourse.

  6. Once you have some air speed, the rudder will help to counter the asymmetric thrust. In fact, bring able to fly straight during a single engine takeoff is often what sizes a plane’s rudder. But yeah, you would think the extreme torque steer would prompt the pilot to abort the takeoff.

  7. None of these revelations seem particularly surprising, it’s Air FRANCE, after all.

    I bet what they were fighting over was something stupidly French, like a disagreement over cheese, or they both cheated on their wives with the same mistress.

    I’m not anti-French, I just dislike their attitude, culture, and what they did to Haiti.

    1. What’s up with the casual anti-French sentiment going on here? We gave the world cuisine, lingerie and 2CVs for Christ sake! What’s not to like?

      In all seriousness, don’t throw an entire country of 60M people away because of our checkered past. It’s not like any “western” country has a perfect record. Our curlture is vibrant, and I bet your comment on French attitude is due to you having met French people from Paris. We all have a problem with them!

      1. I feel ya. I’ve met several very nice French people, and always give people the benefit of the doubt when meeting them.

        I do find it funny though you still essentially said ‘Except those damn Parisians, the Frenchest Frenchies around! Nobody likes them!’

        Checkered past is one thing, but Haiti is a different level. Given how thoroughly screwed they were first by France proper, then by the IMF. Then just told to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, like it was their fault.

        I suppose what bothers me more though is the notion that French people are ‘beyond’ such troglodyte notions of ‘race’, and people in France are all just ‘French’. It’s objectively bullshit, and any attempts to bring that up results in pearl clutching and whining of importing ‘le woke’ notions from the US.

        1. It’s a different approach to the “race issue”. Basically we officially don’t do race and asking on a form what’s your ethnicity (like I’ve been asked when I stayed in Seattle) is a big no-no. There was a time not too long ago when “ethnic” statistics were used to send people to gas chambers.

          The official policy is that if you have a French ID you’re French and you’re my fellow countryman. It may be bullshit to you but it also kinda works for us.

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