U.S. airlines replacing speed sensor on Airbus planes

CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. airlines that fly Airbus aircraft on long-haul routes were installing new speed sensors on those planes before the Air France crash last week of an A330 that killed 228 people.

Delta Air Lines, UAL Corp’s United Airlines and US Airways Group, each of which fly Airbus planes, said this week they were changing the sensors as recommended by Airbus.

The sensor, known as a pitot tube, has become the focus of the investigation of the June 1 crash. The Air France A330 was en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris when it went down in the Atlantic Ocean.

Investigators have said there were “inconsistencies” with the speed readings prior to the crash, raising speculation the pitot tubes may have iced up, feeding wrong data into the cockpit and confusing the pilots as they hit a storm.

The French air accident agency has said it was too early to identify a cause of the accident given the clues so far.

Airbus recommended in 2006 that operators of A320 aircraft replace their existing pitot tubes with new ones that offer better performance. Airbus recommended in 2007 that operators of A330/A340 aircraft replace the pitot tubes.

“Until these installations are complete we are communicating with our flight crews to reiterate the correct procedures to be used in the event of unreliable airspeed indications,” a Delta spokeswoman said.

The part replacements have been under way since Airbus issued its recommendations, she said.

Reporting by Kyle Peterson, Editing by Maureen Bavdek