On Monday, the French investigation bureau BEA (Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses pour la Sécurité de l’Aviation Civile) announced that it had been able to access all the data from Air France Flight 447's voice and flight recorders that had recently been recovered. According to this London Guardian article,
"The successful data transfer includes all information from the flight data recorder, which monitors aircraft systems, and a loop containing the last two hours of cockpit voice recordings."
BEA said that it would take several weeks for the data to be analyzed and an interim report on its findings would be published by summer.
However, late yesterday afternoon, the Wall Street Journal published an article reporting that, "Airbus ... said data recorders recently recovered from the wreckage don't indicate any massive aircraft malfunctions before the fatal dive." The information from Airbus came from a bulletin it sent to airlines saying that preliminary readouts from the data recorders didn't indicate any "immediate [safety] recommendation to raise to operators" of Airbus 330s, the type of aircraft involved in the Air France Flight 447 crash.
This bulletin was also widely interpreted to mean that Airbus was trying to blame the crash on pilot error.
"At the present stage of the investigation, nothing points to either the responsibility, or the freedom from blame, of either of the principal actors [i.e., Airbus and Air France]."
BEA also was said to be angry about the media reaction to the Airbus bulletin, a Reuters article reports.
The WSJ article says that in light of the criticisms, Airbus quickly tried to distance itself from its own bulletin, saying that it "... deplores all inappropriate communication concerning such a serious event that should be handled with professionalism and dignity."
Too late. Headlines around the world's press outlets are today saying that pilot error is the most likely cause of the crash.
It is like those TV shows where the lawyer casts aspersions against a witness in front of the jury in an effort to discredit him or her, the opposition lawyer shouts, "I object" which is sustained by the judge but by then, the damage is already done. The testimony of the witness is tainted in front of the jury.
BEA says for everyone to wait for the analysis to be complete before mouthing off, which seems like good advice, but as I said, for Air France it's JTL - just too late.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.