Air France accuses Airbus of ignoring warnings

The planemaker has been accused of not heeding warnings about speed sensors on its planes before last year's crash of a Brazil-France flight.

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PARIS // Air France has submitted a report to French investigators accusing planemaker Airbus of not heeding warnings about speed sensors on its planes before last year's crash of a Brazil-France flight, officials said on Friday.

The document, published in France's Liberation newspaper, also accuses Airbus supplier Thales of not responding aggressively enough to Air France's warnings that the sensors, called Pitot tubes, sometimes ice over and become unreliable.

Airbus spokeswoman Anne Galabert would not comment on the Air France document, saying Airbus had not been provided a copy and that it "appears to be more a report by lawyers and not by experts."

All 228 people aboard the Airbus A330 jet were killed when the Rio de Janeiro-Paris flight plunged into the Atlantic Ocean during a thunderstorm June 1, 2009. Automatic messages sent by its computers showed that the aircraft was receiving false air speed readings from Pitot tubes, though investigators have pointed to a series of failures and not the Pitots alone. The cause of the crash remains unclear.

Air France lawyer Fernand Garnault told The Associated Press the document has been submitted to an investigating judge looking into the crash.

The Air France move, while it appears to be an effort by the airline to justify its position, was welcomed by families of victims seeking answers about what happened.

Air France's warnings echo concerns about Pitots that emerged soon after the crash, concerns that prompted US and European authorities to order the replacement of Thales Pitot tubes.

The report says Air France warned Airbus and Thales about problems with Pitots and that the manufacturers knew "the critical nature and danger of these breakdowns." It also says Air France was left "without recommendations or long-term solutions for settling this problem."

Victims' families were encouraged that Air France came out publicly with its warnings about the Pitots. "This allows us to hope that tongues will finally loosen up ... and that everyone will speak out," Jean-Baptiste Audousset, head of an association of families, told AP.

Families have long sought access to all documents and data concerning the search, and the inclusion of international experts in the inquiry. On Thursday, the French government announced plans for a fourth search effort for the jet's flight recorders.

The initial search found 50 bodies and hundreds of pieces of the plane, including its torn-off tail. But that last effort ended in May without the "black box" voice and data recorders being found at the site, where the ocean is as deep as 4,000 meters (13,120 feet). Those items are critical to determining why the plane crashed.