- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 7, 2001

Concorde returns to worlds skies

PARIS (AP) The Concorde's flight today, the first passenger flight in more than 15 months, will mark the rebirth of the world's highest-profile commercial aircraft and a small triumph for an industry deeply wounded by the events of September 11.
After months of redesigning and test flights, engineers say they have fixed the flaws that led to the fiery crash of July 25, 2000. The flight path has been changed to avoid the town of Gonesse, where the supersonic jet plunged to the earth, killing 113 persons.
Air France will be the first to fly its newly remodeled Concorde, on a sold-out Paris-New York flight leaving at 10:30 a.m. An hour later, British Airways will operate an invitation-only flight from London. Its fare-paying flights to New York resume Friday.
In a third Concorde flight today, British Prime Minister Tony Blair will take a special plane to Washington to meet with President Bush.
The new Concorde has been fitted with fuel-tank liners of bulletproof Kevlar, a flameproof reinforced undercarriage and newly designed, extra strong radial tires.
But as important as the engineering changes, aviation analysts say, is the symbolism of the Concorde, the world's only supersonic jetliner, reclaiming the skies.
"One of the icons of the civil aviation industry is returning," said Chris Yates, aviation-safety editor at Jane's Transport in London. "It's the shot in the arm that the industry needs."
It's also a boon for the executives and the rich and famous for whom time is more important than money. A round-trip Paris-New York ticket costs $7,300, while a London-New York round trip runs $10,000.
"It's all about time," said Eric Pelletier, vice president for Booz Allen Hamilton in Paris, who has flown the Concorde 40 times and once traveled Paris-New York round-trip in one day to sign a contract. "It's not something you do because it's enjoyable."
Flying above turbulence at twice the speed of sound, the delta-winged aircraft crosses the Atlantic in about 31/2 hours half the flying time of conventional jets.
Despite a 30 percent drop in trans-Atlantic travel since the September 11 terror attacks, the airlines say they are confident of filling the 100-seat planes. British Airways says it has already sold 7,000 seats.
However, service is being scaled back from what it was before the crash. Air France will run five round-trip flights per week and British Airways will run six, about half the previous schedule.
New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani has welcomed the Concorde's comeback, saying its return is "symbolic of how all New Yorkers feel about rebuilding this great city."
The resumption of flights is also a boost for Concorde's creators.
"If the story of the Concorde had finished with the accident of July 25, we would have all been left with a very bitter taste in our mouths," said Henri Perrier, chief engineer on the aircraft's first test flight in 1969.
Mr. Perrier, 72, was summoned out of retirement to join a French-British team of investigators and technicians charged with nursing the Concorde back into the skies after the July 2000 crash, the first in the Concorde's 25-year history.
"Nothing we knew would ever have led us to believe that such a catastrophe could happen," Mr. Perrier said.
Investigators are expected to make their report on the cause of the crash public by early next year. Officials have theorized that as the plane raced down the runway, it hit a metal strip that ruptured a tire and sent debris hurtling toward a fuel tank, triggering a fire and a fuel leak. The metal strip is believed to have come from another jet.
The Concordes that fly today will include new gourmet menus and a new look.
British Airways is investing $20 million to redecorate cabin interiors and Concorde lounges.
On Air France, fresh lobster and petits fours will be served. But fine silver has been traded in for plastic cutlery a safety feature in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
Mr. Perrier, who will be on board, said he looks forward to sipping a glass of Dom Perignon at Mach 2.
"But what will give me the greatest pleasure," he said, "is seeing the plane back in the sky."

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