Ohio-based Aero-Instruments has received US FAA parts manufacturer approval (PMA) to market retrofit pitot probes for a large variety of Airbus aircraft, giving operators another provider to choose from along with Thales and Goodrich for the devices.
Interest in pitot tubes is reaching a zenith as European safety regulators have decided to require Airbus A330 and A340 operators to replace their Thales pitot probes in the wake of the Air France A330-200 accident over the South Atlantic on 1 June. Based on automated maintenance data transmissions sent before the crash, investigators have determined that the aircraft's velocity measurements were in error, perhaps due to icing.
The Aero-Instruments probes are approved as direct replacements on more than 4,500 Airbus aircraft, including the A320 family as well as the A330 and A340 series aircraft. Airbus uses Goodrich probes on factory built aircraft, and says that 80% of the 1,000 A330 and A340 aircraft delivered aircraft continue to use Goodrich probes. Thales pitot tubes are sold as an option.
An EASA directive expected to be issued in the coming weeks will require operators to change out at least two of the three Thales probes on each aircraft, though officials at Airbus say the devices meet certification standards as written. Pitot tubes measure the pressure of the incoming ram airstream and compare the reading to static (non-moving) air pressure measured elsewhere to derive airspeed. Airbus uses readings from three pitot tubes on the aircraft's nose to derive airspeed. The devices include a heating element that prevents the tube from freezing closed when moisture is present.
Aero-Instruments, which has been developing the PMA pitot probe for the past 18 months, is best known for its Embraer and Bombardier regional aircraft pitot tubes as well as its general aviation line. The company produces about 15,000 pitot tubes per year, says Ryan Mifsud, Aero-Instruments vice president and general manager.
Mifsud says it does not yet have an Airbus customer for the PMA pitot tubes, but the PMA will "open the door" for discussions.