Investigations into two lethal accidents have given the start of 2010 the look of an annus horribilis for Air France, the French national aviation champion.
Specialists from the national air safety investigation board, the Bureau d'Enquetes et Analyses (BEA), will begin a last-ditch bid next month to locate the data recorders from an Air France Airbus 330 that plunged into the mid-Atlantic on a Rio-to-Paris flight last June, killing all 228 on board.
At a cost of €20 million ($39 million) - a bill shared equally by Air France and Airbus - two specialised ships from Norway and the US will comb 1500sq km northeast of Brazil that an earlier search determined is the best bet for locating the recorders that captured the final moments of Flight 447.
If the vessels get a promising sonar echo pointing to a trail of wreckage, they will send down robot submarines in the hope of snaring the treasure.
Yet the sea floor in this region is criss-crossed with crags and gullies and in some locations reaches depths of 4000m, whereas the two recorders each measure only 10cm across.
The agency's director, Jean-Paul Troadec, compared it to looking for a needle in a haystack and said the quest had no precedent in aviation history.
"It is the most complex operation of its kind that has ever been undertaken," he said. "But we have to do it. The inquiry is marking time. We need fresh elements."
Despite the hurdles, the chances of finding the recorders are better than 50 per cent, Troadec suggested.
The force behind the revived investigation is Entraide et Solidarite AF447, an association gathering the relatives of the 72 French citizens who died on Flight 447. The group had repeatedly said it suspects a cover-up is in the works in order to save French companies.
The BEA, in an interim report, says it cannot draw firm conclusions as to the cause of the disaster.
But Air France is already replacing French-made "pitot" probes on Airbuses at the demand of its pilots union, which says the probes freeze at high altitude and skew the plane's high-tech computerised fly-by-wire system.
Meanwhile, a court in the Paris suburb of Pontoise is grinding its way through a mammoth trial for manslaughter in the crash of the Air France Concorde in July 2000.
The fuel tanks of the luxury jet were ruptured on takeoff by a shredded tyre, causing a blaze that killed all 109 on board, most of them German tourists, and four hotel workers on the ground.
The US airline Continental and two of its technical staff are in the dock, with a former French civilian aviation official and two former Concorde engineers. At issue is whether the supersonic jet was doomed by a design flaw or by negligence, after it ran over a metal strip that had fallen on to the runway from a Continental DC-10.
The accident sounded the death knell for Air France's pride and joy. The French carrier, with British Airways, grounded Concorde for 15 months but finally phased out the jet after a brief resumption of service.
In the latest episode in the case, Continental this week poured scorn on the impartiality of two experts called to make an independent inquiry into the accident.
Both are retired employees of Air France, which is a civilian plaintiff. One of the two - a former Concorde pilot - was still on the company's payroll when he was appointed to the inquiry, the court heard.
The inquiries are unfolding as Air France is beginning a round of cost cutting to stem financial losses triggered by higher fuel costs and sharper competition from budget airlines.
In the three months to December 31 last year, the company, which is merged with Dutch airline KLM, ran up operated losses of €295 million ($737 million), and the results for the current quarter are expected to be in the same order as last year, which were €574 million.By Catherine Field Email Catherine