Airlines Dismiss Safety Fears Over Airbus Jets

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) -- Several airline chiefs dismissed safety fears over the Airbus A330 on Tuesday, saying they were confident of the plane's reliability despite last week's Air France jet crash.

Emirates airlines President Tim Clark said the Dubai-based company has a fleet of 29 A330-200 planes that have been flying since 1998.

"It is a very robust airplane. It has been flying for many years, clocking hundreds of millions of hours and there is absolutely no reason why there should be any question over this plane. It is one of the best flying today," he said on the sidelines of a two-day global aviation conference here.

Gulf Air Chief Executive Bjorn Naf said he was "not concerned at all" over the safety of the carrier's fleet of 10 A330-200 planes but would wait for directive from Airbus. Manama, Bahrain-based Gulf has no plans to cancel the 20 A330-300 planes and 15 A320 jets it ordered last year, he said.

Investigators are uncertain what caused Air France Flight 447 to crash in the Atlantic Ocean while flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on June 1, killing 228 people on board. It was the worst aviation accident since 2001.

Search crews have recovered 24 bodies so far and found the vertical stabilizer from the tail section of the A330-200 plane, which could help narrow the hunt for the black boxes to determine why the jet went down. The data and voice recorders are located in the fuselage near the tail section of the jet.

Airbus Chief Operating Officer John Leahy told reporters late Monday on the sidelines of the conference that the A330-200 was a "reliable" plane and that it was too early to conclude otherwise until investigations were completed. Leahy left Kuala Lumpur later Monday and other officials from Airbus, based in Toulouse, France, declined to comment pending investigations.

Investigators are considering the possibility that the plane's external speed monitors -- called Pitot tubes -- may have iced over and given dangerously false readings to cockpit computers in a thunderstorm.

David Epstein, Qantas Airways General Manager for Government and Corporate Affairs, said two companies manufacture the external monitors suitable for the A330 planes -- France's Thales Group and Charlotte, North Carolina-based Goodrich Corp.

The Air France plane uses sensors made by Thales while Qantas uses those by Goodrich for its 28 A330 planes, he said.

"We are not concerned because it's a different system in our aircraft," he said, adding that Qantas would stick to its scheduled delivery of two more A330-300 planes by the end of the year.

According to the Airbus Web site, total orders for the A330 twin-engine passenger planes so far stood at 956, of which 669 have been delivered. Some 614 jets are operating worldwide -- 269 of the larger A330-300 series and 345 of the shorter fuselage A330-200 jets, it said.

India's Jet Airways Chairman Naresh Goyal echoed similar sentiments, saying he was confident of the safety of Jet's 12 A330-200 planes. Eight are operated by Jet, while two are leased out.

"No, I am not concerned. We are OK," he said. "We will be guided by whatever Airbus tells us."

Malaysia Airlines Chief Executive Idris Jala said the carrier has changed the speed sensors on its three A330-200 planes in September last year as recommended by Airbus.

"This plane has very good safety record in the past. Let's not jump the gun, we need to wait for the full analysis," he said.

Emirates said it will phase out its 29 A330 jets from September next year to be replaced by the new Airbus A350 long range airliner as part of its fleet modernization.