When the Air France A380 hit a commuter jet on the ground at JFK the video spread across the internet and television like wildfire. To a casual observer, it was another example of the rather cavalier-style that some Air France pilots have a reputation for.
On the face of it, the case against the Air France pilots is pretty clear. Just as with motor vehicles, if an aircraft hits a stationary aircraft on the ground, it is nearly always judged to be the fault of the moving aircraft. However, before jumping to conclusions, it might be wise to look at a a few facts.
- The A380 is fitted with cameras to allow flight crew to see other parts of the aircraft but there are no cameras which show the wing-tips so, when taxiing, the pilot can only rely on his judgement to gauge available space.
- It looks as if the commuter jet had stopped short of its parking stand because of a vehicle in the way in the service area. The ground controller had probably assumed that the aircraft would proceed directly to its stand. The Air France pilot might have been expected to see that the aircraft was not yet fully on its stand but it was dark and maybe not possible to spot that the other aircraft had stopped a few yards away.
- If the FAA had followed its original instincts, this accident could not have happened. They wanted to restrict the use of the A380 to airports, or areas of airports, that had wider taxiways than many of those at JFK. Of course, the A380 is designed for use on busy routes which, by definition, means operating at the busiest – and most congested – airports. Ironically, the airports best suited to handling the aircraft might not have the traffic to support it. The FAA gave into commercial pressure and allowed the operation of the A380 at airports with taxiways that it originally considered too narrow.
It will suit all parties to blame the pilot in this instance. The FAA will not want to accept blame for authorising use of the aircraft at JFK. Airbus will not want to be blamed for not fitting cameras on the wing-tips. Air France will probably rather have a pilot rapped over the knuckles than its operations at JFK (and maybe other airports as well) curtailed.