Airbus long-haul fleet could be grounded

Airbus could be forced to ground its worldwide fleet of long-range aircraft tomorrow when accident investigators publish their first account on what caused Air France Flight 447 to crash off the coast of Brazil on 1 June.

Experts believe that the French accident bureau will report that faulty speed data and electronics caused the Airbus 330 to stall during a tropical thunderstorm, killing 228 people. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is likely to be asked why it had never taken action to address the problem, which is well known with the Airbus 330 and 340 series.

Airbus first reported problems with the speed sensors - known as pitot tubes - in 1994, it has emerged this week, including 36 reported incidents similar to the one that brought down Flight 447.

James Healy-Pratt of Stewarts Law in London, which is representing 20 of the families of the victim, told The Times: “EASA has a legal and moral obligation to get to the bottom of this problem now. If there is a defective system and the aircraft is unsafe then it should be grounded.”

Only 11 bodies of the 50 recovered from the Atlantic have been identified. The search for bodies has now been called off but ships continue to hunt for the black boxes, despite their locator beacons assumed to have expired.

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The fate of Flight 447 would probably have remained unsolved had the aircraft not automatically transmitted data back to the Air France maintenance base. In the final four minutes, reports were sent of ice particles or water blocking the three pitot tubes.

This upset the air data computers which in turn caused the automatic pilot to disconnect.

Flying an aircraft through a tropical storm at night without basic flight information would have proved virtually impossible. Any variation outside the acceptable speed range would have led the aircraft to stall if flying too fly or “overspeed” condition from which it could not recover.
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