PARIS, FRANCE — At the beginning of a French criminal court trial over claims of corporate manslaughter, Air France and Airbus have denied culpability for a jet disaster that killed all 228 of its passengers and crew more than ten years ago.

On Monday, both groups refuted accusations that they had ommissions in the deadliest crash by denying any "involuntary manslaughter" charges. An Air France Airbus jet flying to Paris from Rio de Janeiro crashed into the Atlantic on June 1, 2009, killing its 216 passengers and 12 crew members.

The trial, which is set to end on December 8, could result in fines of up to €225,000 for both Airbus and Air France. Air France merged with Dutch airline KLM in 2004, but charges have only been brought against the French side of the company. In his opening statement on Monday, Airbus chief executive Guillaume Faury said that the group did not "recognize" claims that it had a criminal responsibility in the accident. "We sincerely think that those grievances are not justified," said Faury, rejecting claims that Airbus had underestimated what the prosecutors called the "gravity of its technical deficiencies" and failed to appropriately flag them to airlines.

Air France chief executive Anne Rigail said that although her company's testimony might be hard to hear for the victims' families, the group would, throughout the nine-week trial, "maintain that it had not committed criminal faults in this accident."

As both chief executives expressed their condolences, some of the victims' families shouted "shame" and that the sentiments were 13 years too late. The group of 476 plaintiffs, mainly friends and families of victims, will be given time to testify to the court during the trial in Paris. The longstanding case revolves around Air France pilots' response to the Airbus A330 passenger jet's external airspeed sensors being blocked with ice. The blockage stalled the plane's autopilot function, forcing its pilots to take manual control. Prosecutors have said that Air France had not implemented "appropriate training" to prepare pilots for what unfolded.

They blamed Airbus for its alleged failure to take all necessary steps to "urgently inform" carriers and airlines about potential technical deficiencies. Technical experts and pilots will testify as the court attempts to determine whether or not Airbus and Air France are legally responsible for mistakes connected to the crash. Whether Airbus and Air France would face a trial over the crash has been subject to more than a decade of legal wrangling. In 2019, judges decided not to pursue charges against the companies despite the fact that prosecutors had recommended them. That decision was then overturned last year, paving the way for the companies to now stand trial. "It was a long battle, and the victims' families worked hard for this but at least now we have obtained a trial," said Claire Durousseau, one of the plaintiffs whose 26-year-old niece died in the plane crash with her husband. "We are angry, we are anxious but we are here, and we hope this ruling goes well so that we can move on and find peace," she added.

Via FT