BA regrets to announce further delay to Concorde

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The Independent Online

Air regulators have unexpectedly delayed Concorde's return to the air by at least a week, which means British Airways will not be able to start passenger services with the supersonic plane until October.

The decision, by the Civil Aviation Authority and its French equivalent, the DGAC, was a blow to BA and Air France. They have spent millions of pounds modifying their aircraft to meet tough safety requirements, and mounting a PR campaign to reassure passengers of its safety.

The CAA and DGAC said they wanted more data from the aircraft manufacturers, BAE Systems and the European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Company. Gerard Le Houx, a spokesman for the DGAC, said: "We needed supplementary information as not all the possible scenarios have been considered."

The request implied that not enough had been done to prevent a recurrence of the Air France Concorde crash in July last year ­ in which 113 people died ­ which led to the plane's licence to fly being withdrawn.

Since then, the manufacturers and airlines have been working on modifications, including bulletproof layers inside the fuel tanks, tougher tyres and armoured tyre guards. BA has updated one of its seven Concordes, and believes it will be able to run a daily service once it has modified three. The cost for all seven will be £17m.

The CAA and DGAC had been expected to approve an airworthiness certificate for the supersonic plane yesterday. Now it seems likely it will have to wait for at least another week. The delay means BA will almost certainly miss its target date of restarting services in September. It had said it hoped to be flying passenger services "before the end of summer"; that will have to stretch to October.

Even when the CAA and DGAC sign a directive, they will have to approve each plane for passenger flight individually. A CAA spokesman said: "The manufacturers have been asked to provide further information about the modifications. We want to make sure we are completely happy with the work."

A BA spokeswoman said yesterday: "The issuing of an airworthiness directive is a matter for the regulators. We were encouraged by the progress made at last week's working group meeting and we are continuing modification work on our second and third Concordes."

The Liberal Democrat Trade and Industry spokesman, Dr Vincent Cable, opposed any moves to let the plane fly again. "Concorde may give pleasure and status to a few thousand business executives who save a couple of hours flying across the Atlantic, and it may also be good for the profits of BA, but it's an extremely noisy, polluting and fuel inefficient aircraft," he said. "Modern aircraft using new technology are more economical and quieter."

"We should be looking to the future, not trying to recreate the past with 1960s nostalgia."

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