World News

Airlines wait for Airbus directive after crash

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Several airlines using Airbus A330-200 planes, the model that crashed in the Atlantic last week, said on Monday they would wait for any directive from manufacturer Airbus before making any equipment changes.

The chief executive of Gulf Air, Bjorn Naf, told Reuters he was seeking a meeting with Airbus during an annual meeting of airlines body IATA in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur to get an update on the latest findings on the crash and its causes.

“If there’s an official recommendation, of course we will (act), we do not compromise on safety,” Naf said in an interview.

Airbus had detected faulty speed readings on its A330 jets ahead of last week’s crash of an Air France airliner, and had advised clients to replace a part, investigators said on Saturday. Airbus said the advice was a product enhancement and not a mandatory safety directive.

“If Airbus puts out a directive we will respond,” said Akbar al-Baker, chief executive of Qatar Airways, which has 16 A330-200s.

Giovanni Bisignani, director general and chief executive of IATA, said in a speech to airline leaders in Kuala Lumpur: “Last week’s tragedy over the South Atlantic reminded us all that safety is a constant challenge.”

Air France Flight 447 crashed en route to Paris from Rio de Janeiro, killing all 228 people on board in an incident experts are still trying to understand as French and Brazilian teams scour deep Atlantic waters for its black box voice and data recorders.


Brazil’s Air Force posted a photo on its website of divers grappling with large floating object that was painted with blue, red and white stripes typical of Air France planes.

Officials did not comment on what it was. But a video posted on the Air Force website apparently of the same object was titled “Vertical Stabilizer Found.”

Carlos Pereira, a former president of Brazil’s state administrator of airports, identified the debris as part of the plane’s tail. He said its discovery could help investigators understand how different parts of the plane broke up.

But he stressed it will be crucial for Brazilian and French search teams to find the black box, which may have drifted to the bottom of a mountainous ocean floor that is up to 3,000 meters (1.9 miles) below the surface.

“I believe in the French, they have good technology and experience with this,” he said.

A French nuclear-powered submarine with advanced sonar equipment will join the search on Thursday to help find the plane’s voice and data recorders.

The Brazilian Air Force and Navy said in a joint statement late on Monday they had recovered 24 bodies from the Atlantic so far. On Sunday they gathered debris including a seat, a rucksack containing a vaccination card, and a briefcase with an Air France ticket inside.

The bodies will be taken to the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, off Brazil’s coast, which has served as a base for the search teams. From there they’ll be taken to the coastal city of Recife, where crash investigators are gathered.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said in a radio address on Monday that teams would continue searching in hopes of finding all the victims of the crash.


Several airline executives at the IATA meeting stressed that the Airbus A330-200 was a safe aircraft and they had no reason to investigate the speed sensors on their own planes at this stage.

“This problem was raised in the media; we don’t know if this is the problem,” said Fernando Pinto, chief executive of TAP-Air Portugal, which has 12 of the planes. He added that the airline “would be following all the reports from Airbus.”

Airbus sales chief John Leahy told a small group of reporters in Kuala Lumpur that its A330-200 aircraft was safe and was essential for the airline industry.

“It’s the backbone of the industry,” he said.

Investigators are considering the possibility that the speed sensors may have iced up, but say it is too early to single this out or pinpoint any possible cause with the meager clues available so far.

Air France said on the weekend it was speeding up the replacement of speed sensors on all Airbus long-haul planes. It said it had first noticed icing problems in May 2008 and asked Airbus for a solution to reduce or overcome the difficulty.

Airbus responded by reaffirming existing operating procedures, according to Air France in a statement Saturday.

Air France said tests had later convinced it that probes developed for another model would be more efficient and that it had decided to go ahead and start fitting them from April 27 without waiting for further testing proposed by the aircraft maker.

Airbus declined to comment.

The probes are manufactured by France’s Thales, which also declined to comment pending the crash investigation.

Reporting by Sara Webb and Neil Chatterjee, Bruno Domingos in Fernando de Noronha and Fernando Exman in Recife; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Mohammad Zargham