Air France Points Finger at Airbus for A330 Pitot Probe Failure

 - December 1, 2010, 6:55 AM

The lawyer representing Air France in the June 1, 2009, Airbus A330 accident case has transmitted to the investigating magistrate in France a memorandum that endeavors to demonstrate the carrier did its best to rectify problems with its fleet’s pitot speed probes when they appeared in 2008. In the document, Airbus appears slow to answer Air France’s requests for fixing the issue. Air France Flight 447, en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, crashed in the Atlantic, killing all 228 aboard.

The French daily Libération published extensive excerpts of the memorandum, and lawyer Fernand Garnault confirmed them to AIN. So far, French BEA investigators have deemed jamming of the pitot probes a contributing factor in the accident. However, they lack evidence from the flight recorders and the wreckage, which still lie somewhere on the South Atlantic seabed.

Air France says it recorded 15 high-altitude icing incidents with Thales AA pitot probes (the model installed on the accident A330) on its Airbus long-haul fleet during the 10 months preceding the crash. In July 2008, Air France alerted Airbus after two incidents in May and July. After four more incidents, it sent an e-mail to Airbus in September. “The numerous occurrences over the past four months are of great concern for Air France because safety is at stake,” the e-mail reads.

At the time, the company asked whether the Thales BA probe, offered as an option since the year before, could serve as a solution. Airbus had described the BA probe as more resistant to icing. Then came a series of back-and-forth messages about the merits of the two Thales probe models as well as Goodrich’s 0851HL. Air France was about to replace Thales AA probes when the accident happened.

The memorandum also mentions Airbus’s offer of a workaround solution for crews to fly safely in case they lost speed indications. Lufthansa bought the option; Air France did not.