Airbus jets to get US speed probes after AF crash | india | Hindustan Times
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Airbus jets to get US speed probes after AF crash

india Updated: Aug 01, 2009 11:06 IST

Airlines were ordered on Friday to replace the speed probes on Airbus A330 and A340 jets with models made by US firm Goodrich, after earlier versions were linked to the loss of an Air France flight.

Planemaker Airbus and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) both said "pitot" speed monitors made by the European electronics giant Thales should be switched for those made by its American rival.

Investigators believe false data from speed monitors could have contributed to the crash of Flight 447 in the Atlantic on June 1 that killed all 228 people on board, and airlines have already begun replacing the devices.

But this month an Airbus A320 jet equipped with new generation pitot probes made by Thales experienced a similar malfunction, causing pilots' unions to demand versions built by Goodrich.

"We have sent a letter to all our operators to recommend that they replace Thales pitots with Goodrich pitots on their fleets of A330 and A340," an Airbus spokeswoman told AFP, describing this as a "precautionary measure".

In Cologne, Germany, the EASA issued a statement confirming that it was preparing an order to the same effect to be issued withing 14 days.

The airlines should change at least two out of the three speed probes on each plane to a Goodrich model, Airbus and EASA said.

Air France, one of the main users of Thales pitots, confirmed that it would comply with the decision and update its fleet accordingly.

"Technical instructions permitting this replacement will be available during the course of next week. Air France will then begin to modify its fleet of A330 and A340 aircraft," the company said in a statement.

The new policy will affect around 200 planes from a total fleet of around 1,000 A330 and A340 long-haul jets in service with various airlines around the world, the rest already being equipped with the American probes.

Air France noted, however, that the order does not affect the short-haul A320 jet, many of which are also fitted with Thales pitots.

"We asked our customers to keep us up to date with their experience of the performance of the pitot probes," the Airbus spokeswoman said, explaining why the firm's recommendations had been updated so quickly.

France's accident investigation agency, the BEA, has confirmed that the older version of the Thales speed monitors gave false airspeed data to the cockpit of flight AF447 from Rio to Paris before it plunged into the ocean.

But the BEA has said the faulty sensors were a contributing factor but not the cause of the crash, which has yet to be explained, and an undersea hunt is underway to find the jet's black box flight recorders.

Pilots and lawyers acting for victims' families were quick to point out that false data from pitots had been a factor in a number of recent incidents, and in June Airbus recommended that they be replaced with newer models.

On July 13, however, an Airbus 320 flying from Rome to Paris and equipped with the newer version of the probe once again suffered a malfunction. Pilots coped with the problem, and the flight landed safely.

On Wednesday, the SNPL pilots' union, which represents most Air France pilots, demanded that Thales's probes - old or new - be replaced by Goodrich models, which they said had never been the subject of any complaints.

Air France said the malfunction of the probes on the Rome to Paris flight "lasted only a few seconds" and did not jeopardise passenger safety.