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Air France crash prompts changes in Airbus speed sensors

Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

(Read caption) Pitot tube speed sensors on an Airbus aircraft at Le Bourget airport near Paris June 15, 2009. Following the crash of Air France Flight 447 June 1, Airbus has directed airlines to change most speed sensors on about 200 aircraft.

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Investigators may never know all the reasons why Air France Flight 447 plunged into the Atlantic Ocean between Rio de Janeiro and Paris on June 1 killing all 228 passengers and crew. But evidence – and at least one episode with an Airbus aircraft since then – points toward the critical sensors that tell pilots how fast they’re flying.

On Thursday, Airbus urged airlines to replace most speed sensors (also known as Pitot tubes after the 18th-century French engineer who invented them) on about 200 aircraft.

The move comes in anticipation of an order by the European Aviation Safety Agency that most speed sensors be replaced on all Airbus A330/A340 aircraft. The agency’s “airworthiness directive” is expected to be published within two weeks.

Most of the wreckage from Flight 447 – including the all-important “black box” flight data recorders – has yet to be found. Locator beacons on the recorders have long since gone silent. But the search for any information on what caused the accident continues, and Airbus announced Friday that it would help fund a third search of the crash area if necessary.

The French authority investigating the crash, the Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses, noted Thursday that an oceanographic ship is on-site using side-scan sonar and a submarine to search for evidence of the cause.

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