A French court on Monday acquitted Airbus and Air France of manslaughter charges over the 2009 crash of Flight 447 from Rio to Paris.
The accident killed 228 people and led to lasting changes in aircraft safety measures.
Sobs broke out among victims’ families in the courtroom as the judges read out the decision.
The official investigation found that multiple factors contributed to the crash, including pilot error and the icing over of external sensors called pitot tubes.
The two-month trial left families wracked with anger and disappointment. Unusually, even state prosecutors argued for acquittal, saying that the proceedings didn’t produce enough proof of criminal wrongdoing by the companies.
Prosecutors laid the responsibility primarily with the pilots, who died in the crash. Airbus lawyers also blamed pilot error, and Air France said the full reasons for the crash will never be known.
Airbus and Air France faced potential fines of up to 225,000 euros each if convicted. While that is just a fraction of their annual revenues, a conviction for the aviation heavyweights could reverberate through the industry.
No one risks prison, as only the companies are on trial. Air France has already compensated families of those killed, who came from 33 countries. Families from around the world are among the plaintiffs, including many in Brazil.
The A330-200 plane disappeared from radar in a storm over the Atlantic Ocean on 1 June 2009, with 216 passengers and 12 crew members aboard. It took two years to find the plane and its black box recorders on the ocean floor, at depths of around 4,000 metres.
Air France was accused of not having implemented training in the event of icing of the pitot probes despite the risks. Airbus was accused of not doing enough to urgently inform airlines and their crews about faults with the pitots or to ensure training to mitigate the risk.
The crash had lasting impacts on the industry, leading to changes in regulations for airspeed sensors and in how pilots are trained.