- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2000

LONDON (AP) British Airways began working yesterday for a way to get its fleet of Concordes back in the air after British aviation authorities stripped the supersonic transports of permission to fly.

All the Concorde jets in existence stood grounded after French and British investigators said a burst tire was believed to have caused the July 25 crash of an Air France Concorde. The air-safety regulators indicated it was feared Concorde tires could cause problems on other flights.

France's Accident and Inquiry Office, known by its acronym BEA, recommended yesterday the Concorde's airworthiness certificate be suspended.

Britain's Civil Aviation Authority immediately carried out the recommendation, the first time since 1979 the authority has grounded an entire model of plane.

British Airways, which had already halted flights on its seven Concordes on Tuesday in anticipation of the official grounding, immediately said it would seek urgent meetings with the authority and the plane's manufacturers in an attempt to get the supersonic jet flying again.

The airline said it had canceled Concorde flights until early September, but could resume them on 24 hours' notice once clearance was given.

"We will only resume Concorde operations when we and the airworthiness authorities are completely satisfied that all necessary safety measures have been taken in light of the latest information," said Mike Street, British Airways' director of customer services and operations.

France's aviation authority, the General Direction for Civil Aviation, also decided yesterday to suspend the Concorde's certification, the Transport Ministry said. The move was largely academic, because all Air France Concordes have been grounded since the accident, which killed 113 persons.

The BEA recommended that the certification be suspended until "appropriate measures guaranteeing a satisfactory level of security as far as the risks linked to the destruction of the tires" can be implemented.

"The BEA has determined that it was the destruction of a tire a simple event, which one cannot be sure will not happen again that caused various damages to the structure and systems of the plane, leading to the crash less than one minute and 30 seconds after the destruction of the tire," the agency said in a statement.

French officials said last week that a 16-inch piece of metal on the runway likely gashed a tire as the doomed Air France plane took off, sending high-velocity debris into the fuel tanks. The Concorde was set on fire and crashed outside Paris.

In London, CAA Chairman Sir Malcolm Field said a burst tire was the "primary cause" of the crash. He said Concorde has experienced 70 tire incidents since 1976.

British Airways suspended its Concorde flights for a day after the accident, but then resumed them. Mr. Field said the authority "fully supported" that decision.

"We maintained our position that until we received the first evidence from the joint investigation team, we were happy for them to continue operations," he said.

French and British civil aviation authorities will now ask Concorde's manufacturers, Aerospatiale and BAe Systems, to recommend an action plan to ensure safety regarding tire bursts, Mr. Field said.

He would not speculate on whether the suspension of the Concorde's certificate spelled the end for the luxury plane.

"We wish Concorde to fly," he said. "We will move as swiftly and as thoroughly as possible."

French Transport Minister Jean-Claude Gayssot said he did not expect the Concorde to be taken out of service for another seven or eight years.

"I'm not pessimistic" about the future of the aircraft, he told the newspaper Liberation. But, he added, "It's up to the builders to put things back in shape."

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