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A340-300 in Darwin for testing. An Air France 447 connection? (Update1)

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At Darwin Airport in Northern Territory, Australia an Airbus A340-300 has been undergoing flight testing since the February 21st. The curious arrival of the aircraft - MSN001 (F-WWAI) - was noted by the Northern Territory News under the headline A340 arrives in Top End for ice testing, stating that the aircraft is "being put through its paces in the Territory after a major air disaster off the coast of South America."

The article then goes on to state that the aircraft is "testing new engines at high altitude", citing an industry source. While the article begins to draw a link to the testing in Darwin to the A330-200 Air France 447 crash in June, the relationship is anything but clear. This particular A340-300 is powered by four CFM56-5C engines while Air France's fleet of A330-200s are powered by two General Electric CF6-80E1.

F-WWAI-nose.jpgAn Airliners.net photo of F-WWAI arriving in Darwin on February 21st provides an interesting clue. Mounted on the partially painted nosecone are two red protrusions, and a third just aft of the cone, that appear to be external sensors.

Much of the discussion regarding Air France 447 has been related to the A330/A340's pitot tubes and sensors potentially returning bad airspeed data under certain icing conditions.

At first glance, engine icing tests appear far less likely in this case if the purpose of the A340's testing is related to Air France 447, especially when matched against the new hardware installed on the front of the aircraft.

I've put in a formal query with Airbus about the A340-300 testing in Darwin and will update this post with additional information as it becomes available.

UPDATE 5:58 PM ET: Airbus has responded to the initial query about the A340-300 testing with the following statement:
Airbus is contributing to an international research program about meteorological conditions encountered at high altitudes. This contribution includes a number of flights carried out by an A340 from Airbus' Flight Test division. This aircraft has been equipped with specific sensors to measure atmospheric conditions. Studies have determined that the highest probability to meet appropriate conditions would be in Australia, in the region of Darwin. Results are now being analysed.
Photo Thumbnail Credit Martin Eadie (FULL VERSION)

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