23 Jan 2009

Airbus alert could indicate cause of Air NZ crash

10:30 pm on 23 January 2009

Air New Zealand says a safety alert distributed by aircraft manufacturer Airbus may indicate part of the reason behind the airline's fatal crash off the coast of France.

Five New Zealanders and two Germans were killed when an Air New Zealand-owned Airbus A320 crashed into the sea near Perpignan on 27 November.

It had been leased to a German airline and was being tested before being returned to Air New Zealand.

On Thursday, Airbus sent a notice to airlines reminding them of the importance of flight check requirements and maintenance, in particular to be careful of data sensors when painting aircraft.

Data sensors give pilots key information to enable them to fly the plane.

Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe says from the information in the safety alert, it may be that the investigators think the plane's data sensors were not working properly.

However, he says as the crash investigation has not been completed, the safety message should not be regarded as a definite finding.

The Air New Zealand plane had just been repainted in the company's livery when the crash happened. That work was completed by the German company which leased the plane.

Aviation commentator Peter Clark says the air safety notice may mean the plane's data sensors were somehow damaged or covered when it was being repainted.

Mr Clark says Airbus does not want the notice to be taken as a pre-judgement, but the infomation comes from the preliminary work completed by investitgators looking specifically at the Air New Zealand crash.

Recommendations followed - Air NZ boss

Mr Fyfe says Air New Zealand already follows the safety recommendations.

He says it is important that Airbus issues the notification, but it should not be taken as a pre-judgement of the official crash investigation.

He says any speculation would be premature and remains pleased with the performance of Air New Zealand's fleet of Airbus aircraft.

Air New Zealand is to send specialist staff to France this weekend as investigations continue into the crash. The visit is at the invitation of the French investigating body, the BEA.

Personnel from the New Zealand Transport Accident Investigation Commission will also take part.

A preliminary report into the crash is expected by the end of January.