BRUSSELS – European air safety regulators told world airlines on Friday they will have to replace hundreds of air speed sensors of the type that may have contributed to the Air France Airbus A330 crash in the Atlantic Ocean in June.
The announcement came after Airbus recommended that airlines flying its planes exchange some of the speed sensors manufactured by Thales Corp. for another model.
Investigators have focused on the possibility that the external monitors on the A330, known as pitot tubes, iced over and gave false speed readings to the Air France plane's computers as it ran into a turbulent thunderstorm. Each modern jet airliner carries at least three of the L-shaped metal pitot tubes that jut from the forward fuselage.
Several other manufacturers make the components, including North Carolina-based Goodrich Corp.
"The European Aviation Safety Agency plans to propose an airworthiness directive mandating that all A330 and A340 currently fitted with Thales pitot probes must be fitted with at least two Goodrich probes, allowing a maximum of one Thales to remain fitted to the aircraft," said a statement released by the agency based in Cologne, Germany.
The statement said the airworthiness directive — effectively an order to the planes' operators — would be issued within the next 14 days. It described the move as precautionary, based on pitot tube data the agency had analyzed in recent weeks.
Thales has declined to comment on the announcement.
Airbus spokesman Stefan Schaffrath told The Associated Press that his company also had recommended on Thursday that airlines using its planes exchange two of the three pitot tubes on each of its A330 and A340 aircraft from the Thales type to the Goodrich product.
The recommendation would create a mix of different sensors that would increase safety by providing redundancy if one of the systems failed.
Schaffrath said the move would affect some 200 aircraft in the inventory of various airlines.
He noted that it remains unclear whether incorrect air speed data had contributed in any way to the Air France crash, but said Airbus has since received more feedback from airlines about glitches with the Thales probes.
In June, one of the Air France pilots' unions urged its members to refuse to fly Airbus A330s and A340s unless their Thales tubes have been replaced.
"Obviously pilots are watching this very carefully," said Philip von Schoppenthau, secretary-general of the European Cockpit Association. "We obviously want safe operations, and there is a clearly identified problem with the Thales probes that needs to be addressed."
But air safety experts have cautioned that there was no hard evidence that a pitot tube malfunction caused Air France Flight 447 to crash during a thunderstorm on June 1. The black boxes containing flight data recordings have never been recovered.
Air France said in a statement Friday that it would begin replacing Thales pitot tubes with Goodrich models on its A330 and A340 aircraft after it receives the technical instructions from Airbus next week.