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Air France: Concorde return before April unlikely

PARIS (Reuters) -- Air France said on Monday it was unlikely its fleet of Concordes, grounded following a July takeoff disaster in which 113 people died, would begin flying again before April next year.

It said it would add an extra subsonic round-trip flight offering "relatively privileged" services between Paris and New York from November designed to attract the previously Concorde-flying jet set.

  RELATED STORY
Concorde crash inquiry examines DC10 link
 

"Based on our hypothesis, April would be the earliest (Concorde could fly again), although this is a very fluid hypothesis," Air France President Pierre-Henri Gourgeon told reporters.

It will initially be flown with an Airbus A340 and switched later to a Boeing 777 capable of carrying more passengers.

Gourgeon did not give details of the privileges passengers could expect, but they will pay regular business- and first-class fares. The flight is planned to run until April because, Gourgeon said, all new routes are planned on a seasonal basis, and also because the airline does not currently envisage the Concorde returning to service before that date.

Gourgeon said the crash of Air France Concorde flight AF4590 on July 25 had had no noticeable impact on demand for Air France flights.

A 20-strong Air France team is working with the government and airliner manufacturers on getting the supersonic plane, which had its certificate of airworthiness withdrawn by French and British authorities following the crash, back in the air.

Modification costs

Gourgeon said the firms that made the plane -- a unit of EADS, BAE Systems and engine makers Rolls Royce and Snecma -- would first try to determine what modifications to the plane are needed.

National aviation authorities would then decide whether to test these modifications to ensure they met safety demands.

If the results of these tests were positive, Air France and British Airways -- the only airlines who flew Concorde -- would be brought into the discussions to decide whether a return to service made sense to them.

While no definitive conclusion about what caused the crash has been reached, experts believe that debris from a burst tire ruptured fuel tanks in the plane's delta wing, setting off the fire which ultimately downed the aircraft.

Authorities have asked the manufacturers to come up with alterations which would prevent a tire burst from causing such catastrophic damage.

Gourgeon said Air France and British Airways wanted to get the sleek, needle-nosed plane flying again, but that much depended on a cost-benefit analysis.

"In about two months I think we will know more on the costs associated with the modifications," said Gourgeon. "Right now we know nothing about what it would cost in terms of modifications or investments."

Concorde represented only one percent of the carrier's annual revenues and a meager 10 million to 20 million French francs (US $1.36-$2.72 million) in operating results.

"Concorde is an important activity in commercial and image terms, but for our revenues and profits it is not significant," Gourgeon said.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



RELATED STORIES:
Concorde inquiry examines DC10 link
September 4, 2000
Mini-Concordes 'future of supersonic travel'
August 24, 2000
Schroeder joins mourners for Concorde victims
August 18, 2000
France and Britain debate Concorde's future
August 17, 2000
UK and France combine Concorde efforts
August 17, 2000
BA confident in Concorde's future
August 16, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Air France
British Airways


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