Air France #AF447: Time to quell speculation as rudder is recovered

Air France AF447 A330-203 Brazil Navy recovers rudder assembely F-GZCPBrazil’s navy recovered a large part of F-GZCP’s vertical stabiliser better known as the rudder, yesterday.

The New York Times reports, the part, bearing the trademark stripes and logo of Air France, bore no evident burn marks and had retained its triangular shape, save for a missing chunk where it appeared to have been torn from the body of the plane.

Vertical stabiliser rudder of an Air France A330Speculation is already commencing on whether this crash resembles the crash of American Airlines flight AA587 in the New York City borough of Queens on November 12, 2001, which involved the tearing off of the rudder of an Airbus A300-605R aircraft registration N14053.

I re-iterate that we should end this speculation and push for the recovery of the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder. Only the recovery of these “black boxes” will give us some semblance of truth.

The tail section is one of the strongest parts of an aircraft and hence flight recorders are generally kept here. One can only hope that this discovery helps narrow the search in the deep ocean’s waters of the South Atlantic, but we must temper our hopes; if the vertical stabiliser ripped off the aircraft at altitude and in the middle of a storm, it would behave like a wing and could have landed far away from the main body of wreckage.

Also, in response to the ongoing speculation on the inconsistent speed and sensors issues regarding AF-447, Air France issued a statement late on Saturday.

Paris, 06 June 2009 – 23:09 local time

Press release N° 12

Update on anemometric sensors
Following the many questions which have appeared in the media on the issue of the Pitot probes in its fleet (the Pitot probe is an instrument which measures the air speed of the aircraft), Air France wishes to make the following clarifications:

1) Malfunctions in the Pitot probes on the A 320 led the manufacturer to issue a recommendation in September 2007 to change the probes. This recommendation also applies to long-haul aircraft using the same probes and on which a very few incidents of a similar nature had occurred.

It should be noted that a recommendation from the manufacturer gives the operator total freedom to apply the corresponding guidelines fully, partially or not at all. Should flight safety be concerned, the manufacturer, together with the authorities, issues a mandatory service bulletin followed by an airworthiness directive (AD).

The recommendation to change the probes was implemented by Air France on its A320 fleet where this type of incident involving water ingress had been observed. It was not implemented on the A340/330s as no such incidents had been noted.

2) Starting in May 2008 Air France experienced incidents involving a loss of airspeed data in flight, in cruise phase on A340s and A330s. These incidents were analysed with Airbus as resulting from pitot probe icing for a few minutes, after which the phenomenon disappeared. Discussions subsequently took place with the manufacturer. Air France asked for a solution which would reduce or eliminate the occurrence of these incidents. In response to these requests, the manufacturer indicated that the probe model recommended for the A320 was not designed to prevent such incidents which took place at cruise levels, and reiterated the operational procedures well-known to the crews.

In the first quarter of 2009 laboratory tests suggested, however, that the new probe could represent a valuable improvement to reduce the incidence of high altitude airspeed discrepancy resulting from pitot probe icing, and an in service evaluation in real flight conditions was proposed by Airbus. Without waiting for the in service evaluation, Air France decided to replace all its probes and the programme was launched on 27 April 2009.

Without making any assumptions as to a possible link with the causes of the accident, Air France speeded up this programme and reminded its pilots of the current instructions issued by the manufacturer to cope with the loss of airspeed data.

The three full service Indian carriers have a fleet of 19 Airbus A330s between them. Air India has two, Jet Airways twelve and Kingfisher Airlines five. Driven by this speculation, the air safety wing of India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has written to airframe manufacturer Airbus SAS seeking additional information in an effort to find out if any further checks or remedial measures need to be taken.

Most airlines globally are waiting for specific directives from Airbus, which can be expected only some level of a proper investigation. This then begs the question, why is the DGCA wasting it’s precious resources chasing speculation? As a regulatory body, it should instead squash speculation by focussing on airlines in India and ensuring they have implemented all the advisories, recommendations and directives received the various manufacturers of airplanes not just the Airbus A330.

We should stay away from speculation and as Sargent Friday would say on Dragnet “All we want are the facts, ma’am.”

While mainstream media is indulging in speculation, I invite you to read this great article by Andrea James in the Seattle Post which accurately summarises the facts. Thank you for the facts ma’am.

I invite your views on the media’s coverage of the crash of Air France AF447, and the debate on facts vs. speculation. Post a comment.

Read all AF447 related articles.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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