Concorde cleared for take-off

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British and French officials cleared Concorde for take–off today, laying out a series of safety modifications that will enable the world's only commercial supersonic jet to return to service a year after the crash near Paris killed 113 people.

The Civil Aviation Authority issued a "mandatory airworthiness directive," laying out the modifications that British Airways must take before returning any of its Concordes to service. French authorities issued a similar document to Air France.

"Once the changes are completed on each individual aircraft the regulatory authorities can return its Certificate of Airworthiness. Commercial operations can then resume at the discretion of the airlines," the Civil Aviation Authority said.

Air France grounded its Concorde fleet immediately after one of its jets crashed minutes after take–off from Paris on last July. The dead included 100 passengers, mostly tourists from Germany, the crew of nine and four people on the ground.

British Airways doggedly kept flying Concorde between New York and London until mid–August of last year, withdrawing service just before the two governments withdrew the certificate permitting it to fly.

Investigators believe a stray strip of metal on the runway punctured one of the plane's high–pressure tires, which blew a hole in a wing fuel tank and started a fire.

Key modifications to the aircraft include stronger tires, fuel tank linings made of bulletproof Kevlar, and extra protection for critical electrical and hydraulic systems on the underside of the wings.

"As an independent specialist regulator, the CAA has monitored all the work and the modifications very closely and is now satisfied that the changes will prevent any future catastrophic accident such as occurred at Paris." said Mike Bell, the Civil Aviation Authority's head of design and production standards.

British Airways, which last year announced a £14million remodeling of cabin interiors and Concorde lounges in New York and London, planned a series of five test flights with employees filling the seats.

Employees were invited to enter a drawi to take one of the 100 seats in the plane to help test all aspects of operations, including ticketing, boarding and in–flight services.

Four flights will turn around in the mid–Atlantic and one will go all the way to New York, British Airways said.