BA determined to revive Concorde even if French jets remain grounded

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The Independent Online

British Airways is proposing to resume Concorde flights, even if Air France grounds its fleet permanently, it has emerged. The news is certain to cause renewed friction as the Anglo-French investigation team meets today to review the progress of the inquiry into the Paris crash in July, which killed 113 people.

British Airways is proposing to resume Concorde flights, even if Air France grounds its fleet permanently, it has emerged. The news is certain to cause renewed friction as the Anglo-French investigation team meets today to review the progress of the inquiry into the Paris crash in July, which killed 113 people.

British air accident investigators and pilots' leaders are accusing the French of dragging their feet over the judicial inquiry. They also suspect that Air France would be unconcerned if Concorde never went back into service.

A senior UK airline source said last night it was "entirely possible" BA would start flying Concorde again even if Air France did not, provided the UK authorities were satisfied of the aircraft's safety. "It is not the ideal scenario, but it is entirely possible," he added.

Pilots' leaders believe Concorde may never fly again unless the inquiry is speeded up. Chris Darke, general secretary of the pilots' union Balpa, said: "I don't think it should take to the air again at any price, but it should not be written off because the French are taking an age to investigate the disaster."

The head of the UK's Air Accident Investigation Bureau, Ken Smart, has also criticised the French slowness. He said: "We are 10 weeks into the inquiry and we have done about three weeks' work". He accused the French of breaching international air accident treaties and legal inflexibility.

Balpa is urging British ministers to put pressure on their French counterparts to speed things up. Mr Darke pointed out that unlike BA, Air France Concorde operations were not profitable. He said the situation provided the French airline with a "unique opportunity not to fly the aircraft again. It would be an ignominious way for it to be taken out of service."

He said the BA Concordes had been maintained and developed to a higher standard than those operated by the French carrier.

The British version of the aircraft only used new tyres rather remould versions and it also had a "cow-catcher" device to prevent debris from tyres flying up and damaging the wings.

An interim report into the disaster says that a piece of debris on the runway may have caused a burst tyre, and that fragments of the tyre pierced the fuel tank on the wings. But this is a theory refuted by Mr Darke.

An Air France source denied a lack of concern over the future of Concorde, but said any resumption of flights would have to wait for a conclusion to the accident inquiry. Sources close to the inquiry say accident investigators are nowhere near a final assessment of the disaster.

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