Faulty pitot tubes could lead to a conviction for Airbus in France.

Almost 8 eight years have passed since the fatal accident of the Airbus 330 over the Atlantic Ocean. On June 1st 2009, Flight AF447 of Air France went down off the coast of Brazil, after frozen speedometers unchained a series of computer errors, which caused mayhem in the cockpit and eventually led to a stall.

Brazilian soldier during search operation.

Although many families have been financially compensated for the loss of their loved ones by Air France’s insurance company Allianz, other family’s organizations like the French “Association d’Entreaide et Solidarité AF447” (AssoAF447), keep on battling for justice before local courts in France, Brazil and Germany.

The French organization is civil claimant in a criminal case against aircraft manufacturer Airbus and Air France. One of the interesting documents that surfaced within a recent counter-expertise, is the occurrence of flaws of the AA pitot tubes of French company Thales. According to the families’ lawyers, the Airbus 330 model had a serious problem with the heating system of is Thales AA pitot tubes and both Airbus and Air France were aware of that but didn’t do anything about it.

The controversial Thales AA pitot tube

A chart based on findings of the French Investigation Agency of Aviation accidents (BEA) and remitted in February 2017 to Judge Emmanuelle Robinson of the high criminal court in Paris, reveals black on white, how the Thales pitot tubes became problematic in the year 2008.

“It is striking that in the period between 2003 and 2007, there were only 9 reported problems with frozen Thales AA pitot tubes on Airbus 330 aircraft,” says Laurent Lamy, president of AssoAF447. “These events increased spectacularly beginning in 2008, with 16 occurrences in 2008 only and 10 during the first months of 2009.” “It is possible that a change was made in the heating system of the Thales AA tubes,” says Lamy. “and it didn’t work very well.”

Note the difference between Thales AA ocurrances and those of other pitot tubes in 7 years time

According to Lamy, an internal Air France directive of February 2009 ordered that all model AA Thales pitot tubes be replaced by June 2009. “The replacement (of the faulty pitot tubes) on the Airbus 330 of Flight 447 was programmed upon its arrival in Paris!” Lamy said.

So there was clear negligence of Air France for clearing an aircraft with defective speedometers. Although the defective speedometers triggered the accident, there were more than a dozen failures, faulty alarms, computer errors and breakdowns on the A330 on the fateful night over the Atlantic. Some of these failures — like a flawed Flight Director and the defective Stall Alarm — were addressed in the BEA report on the accident, which published in 2011.

Brazilian soldiers hoisting up the fin of the Air France plane

Nevertheless, for the family members it will not be easy to get a conviction for Air France or Airbus, a giant European aircraft manufacturer, which has never been convicted in court for mechanical failures on its planes.