Airbus responds to crash theories

Failed speed sensors would not have caused crash says plane maker

Investigators are unable to say what caused flight AF447 to crash into the Atlantic ocean
Investigators are unable to say what caused flight AF447 to crash into the Atlantic ocean

Airbus has confirmed that the recent Air France crash could not have been caused by the failure of aircraft speed sensors alone.

Speaking to, a spokesperson for Airbus explained that an aircraft could still fly without its speed sensors and the ongoing investigation being carried out by BEA France would determine what other contributing factors could have played a part in the fate of flight 447 on May 31.

The plane disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean while on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, killing all 228 people on board and media focus on the sensors known as pitot tubes intensified after Air France issued a statement saying it was in the process of replacing the instruments on the Airbus A330 model.

The cause of Air France flight 447's crash on May 31 remains unclear. But one theory is that the sensors became iced over and gave incorrect readings. This could have caused the plane to fly either too slow or too fast, but Airbus denied that this alone could have caused the plane to crash.

"A lot of press speculation has surrounded the Air France flight crash because speed sensors onboard the aircraft stopped working," said an Airbus spokesperson, "but we are saying to airlines operating A330s that we are making no assumptions at this stage until the investigation is complete.

"A330s are still airworthy and if speed sensors did fail the aircraft would still have been airworthy."

The spokesperson went on to explain Airbus’ understanding of the sequence of events.

"We know there was turbulent weather in the vicinity of where the aircraft belonging to Air France went missing and there were messages transmitted to the control centre indicating inconsistencies in the measured airspeed.

"This was important because it means that the aircraft may not have been travelling at the actual airspeed it says it was and we are reminding airlines to refer to procedures in the aircraft manual which tell operators to fly the plane at the correct pitch and thrust."

In addition, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued a statement on its website saying: "We confirm that the Airbus A330 type and all other Airbus aircraft types are airworthy and safe to operate.

Airlines in the region flying the type of plane involved in the Air France crash said they used a different brand of airspeed sensor than those aboard the doomed flight, while other carriers using probes similar to those on the flight – including Qatar Airways – said they are working to upgrade the devices on their Airbus planes.

In fact, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker confirmed during an interview at the Paris Air Show that over half the airline’s A330 fleet was flying with new sensors already, but Al Baker added that this was not an indication that the airline felt the A330 was unsafe.

"The investigation is, as yet, inconclusive and we should not put the wagon before the horse," Al Baker said.

Emirates, the Middle East's largest airline and one of the biggest A330 operators, said the pitot tubes aboard its planes were made by US manufacturer Goodrich Corp, different to those used by Air France and a spokesperson said that, to date, it had not had any technical problems with the system.

"All Emirates' A330-200 aircraft are fitted with Goodrich sensor systems pitot probes. We have not experienced any issues with our probe units as described in the media relating to the recent disaster.

"Emirates is in full compliance with all standard operating procedure recommendations issued by aircraft manufacturers, as well as with requirements stipulated by international air safety and regulatory authorities. Safety is our top priority," the spokesperson added.

The investigation to find out the cause of the crash was still being carried out by BEA France, but Airbus said that a technical team was on site in Brazil to offer any technical support needed by the investigating body. "This could be anything from helping to identify a piece of debris to actually explaining what messages were sent prior to the aircraft crashing."

The spokesperson also confirmed that standard accident procedures were followed shortly after news of the crash reached the European plane manufacturer. "Following any incidents, Airbus informs its customers and operators through the Accident Information Telex (AIT) of any pertinent information they should know about."

In addition, Airbus was quick to confirm the excellent safety record of the A330 type.

"The aircraft has a very good safety record, with two accidents registered," said an Airbus spokesperson just hours after the tragedy occurred. "One was a test aircraft on a test mission (MSN 42) in 1994 in Toulouse and the other was caused by a maintenance issue when, in 2001, an Air Transat flight ran out of fuel and glided for 30 minutes into safety at the next airport. There were no fatalities or injuries."

The first A330 entered service in December 1993 and by the last count (April 2009) more than 600 A330 aircraft were in service with 72 operators.

Airbus added, that up until June, the entire fleet had accumulated some 13 million flight hours in some 3.3 million flights.

"As precautionary measure, the Agency is issuing today a safety information bulletin, reminding operators of existing procedures to be applied in the event of loss of, or unreliable, speed indication.

"With regard to reports about a possible malfunctioning of the air speed indication system (‘pitot tubes’), the Agency is analysing data with a view to issuing mandatory corrective action, without prejudging the outcome of the accident investigation."

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