Air France: Flight 447 not reason for ramping up sensor swap
By Michael Fabey
Air France confirmed it has accelerated the process of replacing speed sensors on some of its
Airbus aircraft, but it disputed
claims by its pilots that it did so
in response to their complaints
following the crash of Air France
Flight 447 off the Brazilian coast
on June 1.
Some commentators have
speculated that ice on the speed
sensors or pitot probes, which
were scheduled to be replaced on
the plane that crashed, could have
contributed to the accident.
“Without making any assumptions as to a possible link with the
causes of the accident, Air France
speeded up this program,” the airline said in a statement.
The airline said it had started
the replacement program April
27 after laboratory tests suggested
“the new probe could represent a
valuable improvement to reduce
the incidence of high-altitude airspeed discrepancy resulting from
pitot probe icing.”
But some airline safety experts
said that while wayward sensors
might have played a part in the
crash that killed all 228 aboard,
it’s more likely that a cascading
series of events, any one of which
the pilots would have been able to
deal with if it had occurred alone,
combined to cause the destruction of the aircraft.
line captain and now an analyst
for consultant AirlineForecasts,
said that even if pitot tubes had
iced over, pilots have other ways
of determining airspeed.
Weber said the pilots were
likely dealing with other factors,
as well, such as the weather and
turbulence the plane hit shortly
after taking off.
The aircraft hit the turbulence
and related weather relatively early in its flight, so it was still heavy
with fuel and flying near what
Weber called “the top of its height
Electronic data-link messages
indicate possible pressurization
problems, but Weber said he’s
been given access to some of
those messages that indicate the
aircraft may have had some electrical problems, possibly resulting
in false error messages.
Once the pilots realized they
were in trouble, experts said, they
would have taken control of the
aircraft from the autopilot.
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Experts said it’s
more likely that a
series of events
caused the crash.
“When you have a catastrophic
loss of a large aircraft like this,
there’s always been more than one
cause,” said Hans Weber, aviation
expert and president of Tecop
International, a San Diego-based
aviation technology consulting
Early attention, though, focused on the pitot tubes, which
gauge the plane’s airspeed.
Investigators said pilots received “inconsistent” airspeed
data in crucial moments leading
up to the crash, and safety experts
and analysts have focused on the
“Icing on the pitot tubes —
that certainly could be a factor,”
But, he added, pitot icing is
nothing new. “Pitot tubes are as
old as aircraft. They have heater
elements in them to mitigate the
risk of icing.”
Vaughn Cordle, a former air-
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