Concorde will fly to New York from next month

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The Independent Online

Concorde will resume commercial services next month after the supersonic plane was finally cleared to fly yesterday.

British and French safety authorities issued certificates of airworthiness, having made prolonged and repeated examinations of the aircraft in response to last year's disaster in Paris. British Airways said three of its seven planes, which have had a series of safety modifications, would start a daily return service from Heathrow to New York in October, but the airline refused to specify the date. Air France, which has five Concordes, is expected to resume flights in November.

BA originally forecast that commercial flights would resume in May, but the plane failed to pass the critical safety tests in time. The airline then said services would begin in "late summer", which has now stretched to October.

Having cleared one of the airliners, Alpha Foxtrot, for service, the Civil Aviation Authority and its French equivalent, the DGAC, will now assess the rest of the fleet. BA will need three planes for the London-New York operation. It hopes the full twice-daily service will start later this year.

As part of the modifications to the airliner, engineers fitted bullet-proof Kevlar linings to fuel tanks and tougher tyres. BA has spent £17m on the modification work and £14m on other improvements, including the fitting of new seats and new cabin interiors.

The Concorde crash in July last year was one of the worst disasters in aviation history. All 109 passengers and crew, and four people on the ground were killed. A metal object shed by another aircraft on the runway at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris caused a tyre to burst, which led to wreckage penetrating the fuel tank. There was a catastrophic fire and the Concorde crashed into a hotel 10 miles from the airport. Air France grounded all of its Concordes immediately after the crash, while BA's supersonic services ceased in mid-August.

Yesterday Mike Bannister, BA's chief Concorde pilot, said there would be five BA operational assessment flights in which the supersonic plane would carry a full complement of 100 passengers made up of engineers and BA staff.

Four of those flights would take passengers halfway across the Atlantic before returning to London, while the fifth flight would continue to New York. The flights would test check-in and ticketing procedures and in-flight services, he said.

Captain Bannister said: "After months of hard work by the manufacturers and our engineering teams, it is exciting to be one step closer to getting Concorde back into the air."

Mike Bell, the CAA's head of design and production standards, said yesterday's decision was "the culmination of a concerted effort by the manufacturer and operators to tackle the issues raised by last year's tragic accident, and to return Concorde to service. 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."

Accident investigators have said they expect no further findings from the Paris crash that would have a bearing on the safety modifications.

Christopher Darke, general secretary of the airline pilots' union, Balpa, said: "Pilots are absolutely delighted with this news. We always knew that Concorde would fly again and we know it will be a huge success in the years to come."

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