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The A320's First Passenger Flight Ended Horribly: The Crash of Air France Flight 296Q

The A320's First Passenger Flight Ended Horribly: The Crash of Air France Flight 296Q

BY SANGHYUN KIM Published on April 10, 2024 0 COMMENTS

On June 26, 1988, Air France Flight 296Q took off for a sightseeing tour, participating in an airshow in the process. As the flight performed a low-altitude pass over a runway, it could not climb fast enough and eventually crashed into a forest at the end of the runway. Official reports concluded the cause of the accident to be pilot error. However, the flight captain, Captain Michel Asseline, had a different story to tell the world.

 

 

 

Flight Details

 

Air France Flight 296Q was a special chartered flight from Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG), headed for Basel-Mulhouse Airport (EAP), with a flyover expected at Mulhouse-Habsheim Airfield. As this was a promotional flight for the then brand-new Airbus A320, tickets were awarded as a prize for a raffle contest. The Mulhouse Flying Club at Mulhouse-Habsheim requested that the A320 do a flyover as there were airshows during that time. After the flyover, the A320 will take a sightseeing flight over the Alps and land at Basel-Mulhouse. The program included a returning flight for the passengers after they landed at Basel.

 

The flyover was planned to be over a paved runway, runway 02. After passing over the runway, the A320 will climb steeply with full power, using TO/GA (Takeoff/Go Around) mode and come back, flying over the same runway in the opposite direction. The flyover altitude was 100 feet (30 meters), with the gear down and flaps lowered at a very low speed (however, this was lower than the minimum altitude designated by French law). 

 



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The first officer would manually control the throttle to maintain speed and altitude. Normally, this would cause the A320 to engage a safety feature called "Alpha Floor", where the computer would signal the aircraft to enter TO/GA mode when the nose angle is above 15 degrees when flying higher than 100 feet. This is to prevent the aircraft from entering an aerodynamic stall. To prevent this, the captain will disengage the alpha floor on this flight.

 

 

 

There is another flight protection feature called "Alpha Protection", where if the A320 reaches a nose-up angle of 14.5 degrees, it will limit the angle to 17.5 degrees to leave a margin about a stall. This feature is prioritized over other modes and activates as soon as the angle of attack reaches 14.5 degrees, and the crew cannot disengage from it.

 

This flight was not an ordinary Air France flight but was operated by Air Charter International on behalf of Air France. Air Charter International took care of the flight plans and aircraft choice, as Air France only had three A320s in its fleet. Hence, the aircraft operated with a callsign "AIR CHARTER 296 QUEBEC". Air France was also the launch customer for the Airbus A320.

 

The aircraft involved was an Airbus A320-111 with registration F-GFKC. It first flew on January 6, 1988, and was delivered new to Air France on June 23, the same year. The aircraft was only six months old when it crashed three days later.

 

Photo: Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives

This aircraft was one of three A320s that Air France operated then. It was named Ville d'Amsterdam, after the capital of the Netherlands. Two CFM56 engines powered the aircraft.

 

The flight crew consisted of two pilots, Captain Michel Asseline and First Officer Pierre Mazières. Captain Asseline, age 44, was a highly distinguished pilot, having more than 10000 flight hours, and has previously flown the Caravelle, Boeing 707, 727, 737, and Airbus A300 and A310. Asseline was also the head of training for the A320 flight and was heavily involved with testing the Airbus A320. Asseline had 138 flight hours on the A320 before the incident.

 

The first officer, Pierre Mazières, age 45, was a highly distinguished pilot with more than 10000 flight hours. He flew the Caravelle, Boeing 707 and 737. He was qualified as captain of the A320 three months before the incident. Mazières had 44 flight hours on the A320 before the incident.

 

There were 130 passengers and six crew members on board. Two female passengers were seated inside the cockpit. As mentioned above, most passengers were raffle ticket winners who had never flown on an airplane before. This became a problem later, as the passengers were confused with how to operate airplane seatbelts, which mechanically differ from car seatbelts.