Philippine Airlines sports new speed sensors

But it is not known how many is fitted

Manila - Airbus operator Philippine Airlines is already sporting a new airspeed sensors for its Airbus A330 and A340 jets after the plane-maker recommended in September 2007 that airlines replace the Thales speed sensors, known as Pitot tubes, on its single-aisle A320, A330 and A340 series planes. The airline operates a fleet of eight A330-300 and four A340-300. It is however unknown whether all of its fleet were fitted already with the new sensors.

PAL vice president Arnulfo Agan said their Airbus A340 and A330 aircraft are not using airspeed sensors manufactured by Thales, a European electronics firm.

There were more than 600 A330s that are in service globally with about 70 carriers, according to Airbus’s Web site.

US Airways has begun replacing its A330s’ airspeed sensors following the accident “out of an abundance of caution,” said Morgan Durrant, a spokesman. Dublin-based Aer Lingus is also “prioritizing modification” of two A330s carrying the older model in response to the Air France crash, Enda Corneille, a spokesman at the Irish airline, said in an e-mail.

Delta Air Lines Inc., the world’s biggest carrier, said today it is upgrading its Airbus A330s under plans made before the accident, without disclosing how many of the planes had already received the new parts.

Malaysian Airline System Bhd. finished upgrading the Thales sensors on its A330s last September, said Mohd Roslan Ismail, the carrier’s chief maintenance manager, in an e-mailed reply. Local long-haul competitor AirAsia X said it had upgraded the one A330 it purchased before the older part was discontinued.

Kingfisher Airlines acquired all five of its A330s after the older sensor was discontinued, with the newer version already installed, according to Prakash Mirpuri, a spokesman at the Bangalore, India-based carrier.

Deutsche Lufthansa AG and Qantas Airways Ltd. said that their A330s are equipped with airspeed sensors from Goodrich Corp., the alternative supplier approved by Airbus, and that they’re unaware of any safety issues or manufacturer recommendations concerning the part.

Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., Dubai-based Emirates, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways, Finnair Oyj, Stockholm-based SAS Group and Singapore Airlines Ltd. also said their A330s are fitted with the Goodrich model.

Air Canada, Rome-based Air One, Brussels Airlines, Jet Airways (India) Ltd., Garuda Indonesia, Korean Air Lines Co., Sri Lankan Airlines, Thai Airways International Pcl and Vietnam Airlines didn’t return e-mail and telephone requests for information on their A330 fleets. BMI, Philippine Airlines and Qatar Airways said information wasn’t immediately available.

French investigators suggested that unreliable readings may have been a factor in the crash of Air France flight 447 off Brazil, killing 228 people. "Ice damage or obstruction of sensors may have produced faulty speed readings, contributing to the crash of the Air France airliner en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris", according to Paul-Louis Arslanian, the chief French investigator.

The plane’s autopilot shut down at the start of a four- minute catalogue of system failures, probably because the flight computer spotted discrepancies among the readings from the three speed sensors, officials from France’s BEA accident- investigation bureau said at a news conference June 6.

Beyond the autopilot shutdown, “we haven’t yet found a link between the inconsistent speed measurements and the system failures,” said Alain Bouillard, the chief technician on the inquiry.

Caroline Philips, a spokeswoman for Neuilly-sur-Seine, France-based Thales, said the manufacturer had no comment while the investigation is under way.

Accurate airspeed readings are pivotal because flying too fast can damage a plane’s airframe and traveling too slowly produces an “aerodynamic stall” and loss of control. Following the crash, Air France and Toulouse, France-based Airbus both issued reminders to pilots of procedures to follow when measurements become unreliable. (With reports by Laurence Frost and Andrea Rothman, Bloomberg)

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