NEW YORK (AP) A supersonic Concorde returned to New York yesterday, more than 15 months after one of the airliners crashed in a ball of flames. The first passenger flight since the crash marked a long-awaited comeback during one of the worst slumps in aviation history.
An Air France Concorde with 92 passengers aboard landed at John F. Kennedy International shortly before 8:30 a.m. after a three-hour, 55-minute flight from Charles de Gaulle airport near Paris.
To show their confidence, French Transport Minister Jean-Claude Gayssot and Air France Chairman Jean-Cyril Spinetta were aboard the passenger flight the first since the July 25, 2000, crash that killed 113 persons outside Paris.
“This is the greatest tribute we can pay to the 113 people who lost their lives, and to whom I dedicate this flight,” Mr. Spinetta said before takeoff.
About an hour later, a British Airways Concorde took off from London, with rock star Sting among the passengers on an invitation-only flight. British Airways commercial flights to New York resume Friday.
In a third Concorde flight yesterday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair took a special charter to Washington to meet with President Bush.
Engineers say they have fixed the flaws that led to the crash the first in the Concorde’s 25-year history. There also was a nod to safety concerns in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks: Fine silver has been replaced with plastic cutlery.
Security was tight as passengers checked in for the Paris-New York flight. Armed police patrolled the check-in area and firetrucks stood by on the runway.
The flight path had been changed to avoid the town of Gonesse, where the Air France jet crashed just after takeoff more than 15 months ago.
Among the Concorde regulars lining up for the flight was perfume company founder Jean-Paul Guerlain, who said he’d flown the Concorde more than 200 times.
“I swore after the crash that I would fly again on the first flight,” he said. “It’s the most wonderful plane. I never lost confidence, and I have no fear.”
Another passenger, Yvonne Rollim, 67, called the flight “a double tribute” to the Concorde and to New York, after the World Trade Center attack.
“We’re paying homage to those who died on September 11th,” she said.
The new Concorde has been fitted with fuel-tank liners of bulletproof Kevlar, a flameproof-reinforced undercarriage and extra-tough radial tires.
The tires, designed by French firm Michelin, passed rigorous tests, including one that revved the wheel faster than 250 mph the Concorde’s speed at takeoff and injected it with a titanium blade. The July 2000 crash has been widely blamed on a ruptured tire that sent debris flying into a fuel tank, though officials have not yet named a cause.
“We have never been able to make this tire blow up, under any circumstance,” Pierre Desmarets, chief executive of Michelin Aircraft Tire Division, told Associated Press Television News.
Flying above turbulence at twice the speed of sound, the Concorde crosses the Atlantic in about half the flying time of conventional jets.