>From Charles Bremner in Paris

The Times
May 04, 2006

RUSSIAN officials have identified severe weather as the likely
cause of the crash off Sochi, and an air traffic controller is
under investigation. But the accident may revive questions about
the high-tech design of the Airbus A320 and the crew's ability to
handle it.

The short-to-medium haul A320 was the first all-electronic
"fly-by-wire" airliner. More than 2,700 have been produced since 1988,
and it has proved one of the world's safest airliners. Before now,
11 fatal A320 accidents had killed 327. But four fatal crashes in
the first five years of the A320 prompted concern that its flight
management system (FMS) was too sophisticated.

On Tuesday a court in France began hearing criminal charges against
Airbus and transport officials over the crash of an Air Inter (now Air
France) A320 on the approach to Strasbourg in 1992, killing 87. The
crew was officially blamed for entering data into the FMS incorrectly
but relatives of victims are partly blaming its crew interface, which
was later modified by Airbus. In 1993 the A320 design was blamed for
the late deployment of the brakes on a Lufthansa A320 when it ran
off the runway in Warsaw, killing two.

Since the early 1990s, there has been no common thread to incidents
with A320s or the larger Airbus family.

In 2000 pilot error was blamed for a disaster involving a Gulf Air
A320 that killed 143 off Bahrain. That crash was in good night-time
visibility, but it otherwise resembled yesterday's accident because
the crew were turning back over water after a missed approach. The
relatively inexperienced crew lost their bearings and flew into the
sea. Some aviation experts at the time questioned the role of the
automated system.