Page last updated at 16:01 GMT, Tuesday, 30 June 2009 17:01 UK

Comorans 'warned of flight safety'

By Emma Jane Kirby
BBC News, Paris

Yemenia Air flight in Indian Ocean island of Soccotra 27.3.08
Yemenia is jointly owned by the Yemeni and Saudi governments

For the 80,000 Comorans living in the southern French city of Marseille, the loss of Flight IY626 has been met not only with sadness, it has been met with fury.

They have been warning the French authorities for months that the Yemenia flights from Sanaa to Moroni were not safe.

"France is just not supporting its citizens," said Nassuredine Haidori, a Marseille town councillor of Comoran origin, speaking to the regional newspaper La Provence.

"We warned all the French companies, and the management at Roissy (Paris) and Marseille airports about this dubious and filthy connection... this was bound to happen."

An official at Yemenia said that the plane that crashed had no technical problems when it left Sanaa. Yemen's transport minister is also reported to have said the aircraft met international standards.

Airport protest

Many of the victims are believed to be Comoran families from Marseille who were returning to the Comoros Islands for a summer break.

With cheap air fares and a 40kg baggage allowance - double the European standard - the flights were very attractive to those on a budget. Air France and Emirates no longer fly to the Comoros Islands, making choice limited.

Last August, the protest group SOS Voyage aux Comores held a 300-strong demonstration outside Marseille airport to denounce conditions on the flights between Yemen and the Comoros, complaining that they failed to meet safety standards.

Realtives of passengers at Roissy Charles De Gaulle airport 30.6.09
The flight was the last leg of a journey from Paris and Marseille to Comoros

Group spokesman Farid Soilihi claimed the flights often had technical problems and failed to respect timetables.

In a letter to the French authorities, he said the airline operated a service which was "a disaster waiting to happen". The group had also planned a boycott of the airline for 2009.

In an interview given to the Journal du Dimanche, Mr Soilihi described conditions on board the flights. "The toilets were blocked... bags fell on top of passengers. There was absolutely no safety on board," he said.

Yemenia's deputy managing director for operations, Mohammed al-Sumairi, told France 24 television that the plane had been "technically sound" when it left the Yemeni capital Sanaa, "and it departed without any technical problems at all".

However, French Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau said that the Airbus A310 which crashed had been inspected in 2007 by French transport authorities which had noticed a number of faults.

The plane had not flown in French airspace since, he said.

He added that Yemenia had been closely monitored by the French authorities and that airline officials were due to be interviewed by the European Union's safety committee.

Since news of the crash broke, EU Transport Commissioner Antonio Tajani has called for a worldwide blacklist of unsafe airlines. The EU has a blacklist, but Yemenia Air is not on it.

Great alarm

France woke up to news of this crash with great alarm.

It is the second air crash in less than a month involving an Airbus aircraft and French citizens.

On 31 May an Airbus 330 crashed into the Atlantic as it hit thunderstorms en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. All 228 people on board are presumed killed.

The inquiry into that disaster has focused on the possibility that external speed monitors iced over and gave false readings to the plane's computers, possibly causing the pilot to fly too slowly through the storm.

The Comoros Islands crash also happened in severe weather conditions with extremely strong winds.

Air speed monitors on long-haul Airbus aircraft have been replaced following pressure from the French pilots union after the Atlantic crash.

Accident investigators are expected to publish their initial findings into that accident on Thursday.

In pictures: Yemeni plane crash
01 Jul 09 |  In Pictures
Timeline of Flight IY626
30 Jun 09 |  Africa
Ties that bind: Comoros and France
30 Jun 09 |  Middle East
Air disasters timeline
24 May 10 |  Special Reports
Country profile: Comoros
27 May 11 |  Country profiles

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