Air speed instruments 'not replaced'

Air France did not replaced instruments on missing plane, despite recommendations.

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The agency investigating the crash of Flight 447 says Air France had not replaced instruments that measure air speed on the plane, which the manufacturer had recommended. The agency head Paul-Louis Arslanian says some problems had been detected with the instruments on the Airbus A330, the model that disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean on May 31. Mr Arslanian says Airbus had recommended that airlines replace the instruments on the A330. The head of the crash investigation says Air France had not changed the instruments known as Pitot tubes on the plane that crashed. Mr Arslanian warned against jumping to conclusions. He says planes can be flown safely "with damaged systems". Meanwhile, an Air France memo on Friday said it is replacing Pitot tubes on all medium- and long-haul Airbus jets. Airbus has a plan to replace speed monitors in its A330 planes following numerous breakdowns, investigators said today, five days after an Air France jet crashed into the Atlantic The Air France jet that crashed into the Atlantic also sent out 24 automatic error messages in its final moments as its systems, including the autopilot, shut down, investigators have revealed. The director of the French air accident investigation agency, Paul-Louis Arslanian, said that it was impossible to tell from the signals whether the doomed crew had shut off the autopilot or whether it cut out. Also, an intense sea operation to find the remains of the jet was being bolstered after days of fruitless searching, officials said on Friday. A French nuclear submarine was on its way to the zone, 1,000 kilometres off Brazil's north-east coast, to help look for the black boxes from flight AF 447 which was lost on Monday as it flew from Rio de Janeiro to Paris with 228 people on board.

Two more Brazilian navy vessels late on Friday were also to join three others already in the area, which was being overflown by 12 Brazilian and French aircraft. The head of air traffic control for the area, Brazilian Brigadier Ramon Cardoso, told reporters "we have not made any recovery of material". Some items spotted floating in the vicinity were "not relevant", he said, adding that weather conditions were terrible, limiting visibility, and currents had changed direction.

Brazilian officials said items picked up Thursday turned out on closer inspection to be nothing more than trash, probably from ships. But positive sightings in the waves of a seat from a plane and cables and other components on Tuesday and Wednesday convinced searchers they were in the right spot. Brig Cardoso said those objects might have since sunk to the bottom of the ocean, where the plane's black boxes are also believed to be.

Without clues from the wreckage or the data in the black boxes, speculation climbed over what caused the accident. The French defence minister Herve Morin told reporters in Paris he had not ruled out a terrorist attack on the plane, although he had not heard of any threats or claims of responsibility being made. The French transport minister Dominique Bussereau said "we must do everything we can to find the flight recorders" but admitted "time is against us".

Plane-maker Airbus had issued a notice warning crews on its aircraft worldwide what to do when speed indicators give conflicting readouts, suggesting a link with data alerts sent by the ill-fated Air France plane shortly before it met its end. According to David Learmont, the editor in chief of Flight International, the decision to issue the warning does not mean that investigators know what happened, but that they had seen similar situations in the past.

"What Airbus is saying is, 'Whatever happened to these pilots, they didn't manage to handle it. We don't know everything that they faced but we know a little bit about the nature of the situation they faced'," he said. "So all they've done is that they've gone back to the airlines and the pilots and said: have a quick look at this, because it might save your life." While the investigation cast about for clues, families of those on board the plane expressed frustration with the lack of physical evidence that their loved ones were gone forever.

A group of 10 Brazilian relatives were flown from Rio to the main search operations centre in the Brazilian city of Recife on Friday to speak to a pilot involved in the search for the plane. They left without speaking to media, and returned to Rio where another service was held in memory of the Air France passengers and crew. Meanwhile, Rio's attorneys association blasted "harassment" of the relatives by Brazilian and foreign lawyers smelling a lucrative lawsuit in the tragedy.

Any Brazilian lawyer caught trying to sign up the grieving kin would be punished, it warned, while saying any foreign lawyer who had entered the country on a tourist visa and was trying to drum up business was breaking the law. "A lawyer is not a vulture who goes after human pain," said the head of the association, Wadih Damous. Also in Rio, police began collecting genetic samples from relatives of the passengers on the doomed flight in order to accelerate the identification process should any remains from the crash be found.