Airbus denies plans to ground A330, A340

By AFP

July 15, 2010 Updated Jun 14, 2009 at 9:41 PM CDT

Airbus on Thursday denied a press report that it was considering grounding all long-haul A330 and A340 jets to change airspeed sensors after an Air France plane crashed into the Atlantic.

The French newspaper Le Figaro said in its Thursday edition that the aircraft manufacturer "does not rule out grounding its fleet of 1,000 A330s and A340s to change the (speed) sensors."

An Airbus spokesman denied the report, telling AFP "This is wrong."

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) "has issued a press release that all A330s and other aircraft are safe to operate," he said, adding: "We will take legal action against such irresponsible reporting."

Airbus has written to clients to assure them its A330 planes were safe, including those with older speed sensors seen as a possible cause for last week's Air France crash, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Air France flight 447 from Rio to Paris plunged into the Atlantic on June 1 with the loss of all 228 people on board.

Officials have not identified the cause of the crash, but so far the investigation appears to have focused on the stormy weather and a possible problem with the Airbus A330's airspeed monitors, known as "pitot probes."

An Airbus spokeswoman said earlier a joint memo with the French transport ministry bureau in charge of the investigation into the crash was sent Monday to its clients.

"The note says that at the current stage of the inquiry, we confirm that the fleet equipped with various pitot probes can be used in its current condition," she said.

Airbus and Air France say older pitot probes have been problematic on other Airbus A330s and A340s, and the airline has stepped up a programme to install a newer type after pilots' unions threatened to refuse to fly.

The European air safety agency said Tuesday that Airbus models were "safe to operate," but added that a bulletin had gone out to remind airlines of what to do "in the event of loss of, or unreliable, speed indication."

There has been speculation that the A330's speed probes could have iced up during a storm at high altitude and supplied false airspeed data to the cockpit.

This, in turn, could have caused the pilots to fly too slow and stall, or too fast and rip the airframe apart, aviation experts say.

The crash is the worst aviation accident since 2001, and unprecedented in Air France's 75-year history.

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