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Concorde cleared to fly again

An Air France Concorde takes off on a test flight from Chalons-Vatry airport, eastern France, on August 30, 2001  

LONDON, England -- British and French authorities cleared the way for Concorde to resume commercial service next month after approving modifications to the world's only civilian supersonic airliner.

One year after an Air France Concorde crashed outside Paris, killing all 109 on board and four people on the ground, officials on both sides of the Channel said they would allow the planes to resume flying once the alterations were complete.

British Airways announced it hoped to be ready to restart transatlantic services in October. Air France said it would resume its Paris-New York service a month later.

Among the proposed changes demanded by the two civilian aviation authorities were the strengthening of underwing fuel tanks, the use of stronger tyres and modification to undercarriage wiring.

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Timeline: A brief history of the Concorde  
Key safety modifications
-Installation of Kevlar-rubber fuel tank liners. These are designed to minimise fuel leaks in event of wing-skin being punctured
-Use of newly developed Michelin Near Zero Growth tyres on all eight main wheels. These are tougher and more resistant to damage
-Electrical wiring in the plane's undercarriage bay will have armour-plated insulation

"Once the changes are completed on each individual aircraft, the regulatory authorities can return its Certificate of Airworthiness. Commercial operations can then resume at the discretion of the airlines," the aviation bodies said in a statement.

British Airways has seven Concordes, one of which has already received the full overhaul. Air France, the only other company to operate the delta-winged jet, has a fleet of five jets and has also completed modifications on one of them.

BA's remaining four jets will undergo modification in pairs. The total cost to the company is estimated at 17 million ($24.7 million).

The companies need a minimum of three Concordes to guarantee a regular transatlantic link. Work on modifying the rest of their fleets is already under way.

"British Airways is likely to be faster since it was not one of their planes that crashed, and therefore they have not been as traumatised as us," a spokeswoman for Air France told Reuters.

Air France grounded its Concordes immediately after the July 25 tragedy. BA continued flying its jets into August before it too ceased commercial passenger flights.

Last summer's crash is thought to have happened when a metal strip on the runway burst one of the jet's tyres.

It is believed rubber debris hitting fuel tanks then caused a fire on the jet before it crashed north of Paris.

BA's modified Concorde has undergone three successful passenger-less Trans-Atlantic test flights, each time safely reaching its maximum speed of 1,350 mph (2172 km/h) -- twice the speed of sound.

The modified plane has also been put through exhaustive simulated tests, including fire, wind-tunnel and "gun" tests, the latter involving the firing of debris at mock fuel tanks.

A programme of crew refresher flights is continuing.

Mike Bell, the UK Civil Aviation Authority's head of design and production standards told The Associated Press: "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."

Despite last year's tragedy it seems likely that, once flights resume, Concorde will remain a popular mode of transport.

"There will always be a certain number of passengers for whom getting from point A to point B in the shortest period of time is important," Chris Yates, aviation safety and security editor for Jane's Transport, told AP. "Concorde fulfils this niche market very well."

• British Airways
• Air France
• Concorde
• Civil Aviation Authority

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