The year 2019 will undoubtedly be remembered as a "paradoxical" year for civil aviation safety worldwide. On the one hand, although it is not the best year in history in terms of the number of fatal accidents or victims, we will nevertheless look back on 2019 as being one of the best three years seen since the end of the second world war, with 20 fatal accidents in commercial air transport resulting in 283 victims.
On the other hand, we will remember it as the year in which the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX crashed leading to the loss of 157 lives, followed, a few months later, by another B737 MAX accident, resulting in 189 victims. These two accidents led to one of the longest suspension of flights of a transport aircraft - and arguably the most significant - that the international aviation community has ever known. It should be noted that, although not having a “statutory” reason to participate in the safety investigation carried out by the Ethiopian authority (the aeroplane being of neither French design nor operated by a French operator), the BEA was quickly called upon to carry out the read-out and analysis of the recorders in its laboratory, and then to dispatch several investigator teams to support the work in Ethiopia. In the particular context of this investigation, the participation of a partner who could provide both neutrality and a high level of expertise was considered useful by the stakeholders.
For the BEA, 2019 was also marked by the success of the search operations in Greenland and the recovery of the engine parts of an Airbus A380 which suffered a serious failure in September 2017: these parts were buried under four meters of ice, in a particularly hostile environment, on the ice sheet. These operations required significant material resources, and above all the perseverance and tenacity of a number of teams from various organizations in different countries. The funding of these search operations was shared between the various stakeholders. The BEA’s share represented an amount equal to approximately 10% of its annual operating budget, and sizeable savings had to be made on many budget items. Ultimately, the analysis of the recovered parts revealed unexpected failure mechanisms which fully justify in retrospect, all the efforts made. It should be possible to publish the final investigation report in the months to come.
As I have already mentioned in the previous publications of the annual report, I consider that significant efforts should be put into investigations in the field of general aviation, the main focus being fatal accidents, or those that could have been, regardless of the type of aircraft involved (whether certified or not): the BEA has applied this investigation policy for several years and will continue to apply it, encouraged by the general aviation accident statistics for 2019 which show that the year is the best of the decade 2010 –2019, taking all activities together (planes, helicopters, ultralights) both in terms of the number of fatal accidents and in terms of victims. This policy has a twofold objective: to free up resources by reducing the investigative work into the least serious occurrences, in order to reallocate them to the most relevant occurrences in terms of safety.
One of the consequences of this policy has had measurable effects: the number of reports published over the year has risen to a record level of 163. It is more than the number of investigations opened, and has allowed the BEA to reduce the number of ongoing investigations.
I wanted to highlight some key aspects of the life of the BEA and its staff this year, through a small supplement: the reader, who, beyond the BEA's annual results, would like to learn a little more about some of its concrete and operational activities, can refer to the end of this document to share in some, sometimes quite extraordinary experiences.
I will not end this message without pointing out that this annual report was produced under very specific conditions, due to the confinement measures implemented in March 2020 as part of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. From the beginning of these measures, the BEA has organized itself around generalized telework, relying on the setting up of teleconferences and on the long-standing organization of a computer system which allows staff to have remote access connections, in particular for the needs of conventional telework and those of on-site investigation acts. This organization makes it possible to maintain an activity which, admittedly in degraded mode, is still relatively effective: the publication of numerous investigation reports and this report during this confinement period being proof of this. I would like to warmly thank all the BEA staff for their commitment and dedication, both in normal circumstances and in this crisis situation.
Director of BEA