All 228 people aboard the Rio de Janeiro-Paris flight perished when plane crashed into the Atlantic [EPA]

A French judge has ruled that Airbus be investigated for alleged manslaughter over the 2009 crash of an Air France plane.

Thomas Enders, the European plane maker's chief, said the preliminary charges were filed after judge Sylvie Zimmerman met Airbus lawyers on Thursday.

All 228 people aboard the Rio de Janeiro-Paris flight were killed when the Airbus A330 jet crashed into the Atlantic on June 1, 2009.

The preliminary charges allow for further investigation.

Sensors on the jet sent faulty air speed readings to the pilots before the crash, though the role of the sensors in the accident is unclear.

Enders said Airbus would continue to co-operate with the probe.

Charges against Airbus, the world's top plane maker by orders in 2010 and a rival of Chicago-based Boeing Co, are unusual but not unprecedented.

The company's employees have been charged in France in previous crashes.

Intense thunderstorm

The A330-200 went down amid an intense, high-altitude thunderstorm. Specialists are launching a fourth undersea search effort next week for the plane's so-called black boxes, or flight recorders.

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"We are convinced if we find the black boxes we'll be able to reconstruct what really happened on this tragic flight Air France 447," Enders said. Airbus officials say the search is a company priority.

Air France and Airbus will finance the estimated $12.5m cost of the new search, in which three advanced underwater robots will scour the mountainous ocean floor between Brazil and western Africa, in depths of up to 4,000 metres (13,120 feet).

Already $27.5m has been spent on three previous search attempts that failed to find Flight 447's voice and data recorders.

The exact role the sensors played in the crash may never be known without the flight recorders.

Airbus knew since at least 2002 about problems with the type of speed sensor that malfunctioned on the doomed jet but air safety authorities did not order their replacement until after the crash, according to the Associated Press news agency.

Source: Agencies