Two Air France pilots were suspended after coming to blows in the cockpit of an Airbus A320 jetliner during a flight between Geneva and Paris, the latest safety issue to plague the airline.
The mid-air dispute occurred in June, according to a spokeswoman for the carrier who confirmed a report by La Tribune newspaper. The incident was resolved quickly, and the flight proceeded normally, the pilots are awaiting a decision by management on their “totally inappropriate behaviour.”
The carrier responded with a pledge to carry out a safety audit and beef up post-flight analyses.
The revelation of the physical altercation comes on the heels of a report published by France’s civil aviation safety investigation authority, the Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses, concluding that a series of lapses at the French arm of Air France-KLM pointed to “changes and even violations” of procedures leading to a narrowing of safety margins.
The Skyteam Alliance carrier confirmed the dispute and exchange of inappropriate gestures without further revealing the altercation’s specifics. The source of the disagreement was not readily apparent and may be either a personal reason or a professional cause, such as the co-pilot’s refusal to follow instructions.
In the June incident, a dispute between the pilot and co-pilot turned physical shortly after takeoff as the plane gained altitude, with the men taking each other by the collars after one possibly hit or slapped the other, according to the newspaper report.
Cabin personnel heard a noise in the cockpit, intervened and one member spent the rest of the flight on the flight deck. The BEA said it wasn’t notified of the incident because there were no consequences for the flight.
The report centred on a December 2020 flight from Brazzaville, in the Republic of Congo, to Paris, when the crew rerouted the plane to Chad and landed after discovering a fuel leak, but didn’t cut the engine or land as soon as possible, per leak safety procedures, which could have resulted in the engine catching fire.
The report cited three similar cases between 2017 and 2022, noting that pilots seem to be acting based on what they think is the best versus established safety protocols.
The crew skirted safety procedures and increased risks of a fire — midair or on landing — by not shutting down the leaking engine or opting to touch down at the closest airport, the report concluded. The aircraft landed safely.
The BEA in April also opened an investigation into the cause of another Air France inflight incident it called “serious.”
Pilots of a Boeing 777 airliner aborted a landing at Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport after telling air traffic controllers the plane was unresponsive at the approach when a pilot was heard saying it was “going nuts.” The flight from New York landed safely on its second attempt.