European Agency Gives Warning on Airbus Instrument

By: Patrick McGroarty AP Email
By: Patrick McGroarty AP Email

BERLIN (AP) - The European Aviation Safety Agency has issued a safety warning for air speed sensors that are made by Goodrich Corp. and fitted on many Airbus jets - just two weeks after advising airlines to use them instead of instruments made by Thales SA.

Experts believe sensors made by Thales may have contributed to the June crash of an Air France Airbus jetliner from Brazil to Paris that killed 228 people.

The latest EASA emergency directive, effective from Wednesday, said loose fittings have been reported in pitot tubes that Charlotte, North Carolina-based Goodrich made for A330 and A340 Airbus jets. It urged airlines to test the devices.

The Cologne-based agency said its directive addresses a potential in-flight air leak that could cause incorrect pressure and airspeed readings.

Lisa Bottle, a spokeswoman for Goodrich, said an Airbus operator reported the loose fittings in a recent shipment of the probes.

"We have added a torque tightening range requirement to the manufacturing process as an additional precaution," Bottle said in a statement.

A pitot is an L-shaped metal tube that juts from a plane's forward fuselage and measures air speed. Modern jet airliners carry at least three, and the devices are susceptible to blockage from water and icing.

On Sept. 7, EASA enacted a separate directive calling for every Airbus jet to be outfitted with at least two Goodrich pitots, and no more than one made by France's Thales.

The model of Thales sensors fitted onto Air France Flight 447, which crashed en route from Brazil to Paris in June, was banned across Europe.

Investigators trying to determine why the Air France A330 crashed into the Atlantic have questioned whether the pitot tubes iced over and gave false speed readings to the plane's computers as it ran into a turbulent thunderstorm.

There is no hard evidence of that theory, though, and the focus of crash investigations often shifts as more information is recovered.

EASSA spokesman Daniel Hoeltgen said that the two directives are
unrelated: the first addressed structural concerns over the Thales sensor, while Wednesday's directive was the result of routine testing and did not question the basic design of Goodrich pitots.

"It's an unfortunate coincidence, but from a technical point it's a different issue," Hoeltgen said.

Savina Zakoula, another agency spokeswoman, said the directive urges operators to run tests on the device that should not disrupt service.

"There has been a limited batch of Goodrich pitot tubes which had a quality issue," Airbus spokesman Stefan Schaffrath said. "Through the serial numbers, the faulty pitot tubes are perfectly identified."

He could not immediately say how many airlines or aircraft might be affected, but said the problem was "very limited."

EASA's Hoeltgen also said he could not say how many airlines or planes would be affected.

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