On 6 December 2010, a French court found Houston-based Continental Airlines guilty of involuntary manslaughter for its part in the Concorde crash in 2000 which killed 113 people. The Airline was fi ned €200,000 and ordered to pay €1m in damages to Concorde’s operator, Air France.
John Taylor, a mechanic for Continental Airlines, was also found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and given a 15-month suspended jail sentence. Four other individuals were acquitted.
The ruling comes over a decade after the crash, which happened outside Paris on 25 July 2000. The trial began in February 2010, following a request in 2008 from a French public prosecutor. It is believed that investigators produced over 80,000 documents for the court during their investigation.
The official report on the crash, which was published in December 2004, found that a piece of metal fell from a DC-10 plane operated by Continental, which took off from Paris Charles de Gaulle airport just before the Concorde jet. The Concorde hit the titanium strip and one of its tyres burst, causing debris to hit and rupture a fuel tank, which then burst into fl ames. John Taylor had used titanium parts to make repairs to the DC-10. The judge confi rmed that the titanium debris was to blame for the crash and found that Mr Taylor should have used a softer metal such as aluminium; titanium was known to be dangerous for aeroplane tyres.
Continental’s lawyers have disputed the Court’s findings, arguing that the Concorde jet caught fi re before hitting the titanium strip. They have stated that they will appeal the verdict, describing it as “absurd” and stating that it “only protects French interests”.
The court also ruled that Continental should pay 70% of any compensation claims to the families of the victims, with Aerospace group EADS, who built the supersonic airliner, to pay the remaining 30%. This could potentially expose Continental and EADS to claims in the tens of millions of Euros if insurance companies seek reimbursement for sums already paid.
Air France is separately seeking €15m in damages from Continental in a civil action, which was delayed pending the outcome of the criminal trial.
As Concorde fl ights ground to a halt in 2003, the impact of this verdict is likely to be measured by the reputational damage it causes Continental. It will also be interesting to see what impact (if any) this verdict will have on health and safety regulations in the aviation industry.