PARIS – The French air accident investigation authority is assisting Spain in probing the crash of an A400M airlifter May 9 near Seville, though engineers are having trouble extracting data from the military aircraft’s flight recorders, according to the French Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Accidents Defense (BEAD).

“There are technical issues in reading the system, and it is a question of compatibility between systems, so we are still trying to extract data,” French Gen. Bruno Caïtucoli, head of BEAD, told Aviation Week in a May 13 interview.

“We offered our help and the Spanish accepted it.” He added that Spanish investigators had traveled here with the so-called black boxes, which are currently at a military test facility in Saclay. “They came to us in France,” he said.

Caïtucoli said Spanish authorities initiated the crash investigation over the weekend, after a test flight of the Airbus A400M MSN23 crashed shortly after takeoff, killing four crewmembers and leaving two in the hospital in serious condition.

Spain’s CITAAM – the Spanish body responsible for investigating military aircraft accidents – is now leading the investigation, with assistance from BEAD and the civil Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses (BEA). French defense procurement agency DGA, whose propulsion testing facility in Saclay provides air accident investigation support for incidents involving aero engines and data mining of flight recorders, also is supporting the effort.

“Our investigation is designated a ‘safety investigation’ and will identify causes of the accident, offer an explanation and provide recommendations so that such an accident does not happen again,” he said, adding that the probe had initially been designated a technical inquiry.

However, since the flight recorders’ arrival in Saclay, Caïtucoli said engineers have encountered technical issues that have slowed the data mining process.

“The extracting system we are using belongs to the DGA,” Caïtucoli said, noting that the problem appeared to be a compatibility issue between the recorders and the DGA’s data reading system, rather than an issue with the condition of the recorders themselves.
Caïtucoli said the French agencies have not set a timeline for completing their role in the investigation.

“Our engineers are working on it,” he said.

In the meantime, the Spanish defense ministry has temporarily revoked the flight-test permit for production A400M aircraft that are being prepared for delivery in the wake of the crash.

The six-member Airbus crew was conducting the first flight of MSN23, an aircraft destined for Turkey, when it experienced difficulties shortly after takeoff from Seville’s San Pablo airport. As the crew maneuvered the aircraft to return to the airfield, it struck power lines and came down on agricultural land near an airport industrial estate 1.5 km northeast of the airport.

Airbus Defense and Space is continuing development testing of the airlifter, and completed a scheduled test flight of A400M MSN4 on May 12. The aircraft, which flew from Toulouse to Seville, is the first A400M flight since the crash.

Airbus has delivered 12 A400Ms to five nations since 2013: six to France, two to Britain, two to Turkey, one to Germany and one to Malaysia, the airlifter’s first and only export customer.