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Concorde back in business



PARIS, France -- The world's only supersonic jetliner has returned to the skies -- making a long-awaited commercial comeback during one of the worst slumps in aviation history.

Revamped to address safety concerns, the Air France Concorde, with 92 passengers aboard, took off from Charles de Gaulle airport near Paris at 10.47 a.m. (0947 GMT) for the flight to New York and made a safe landing at around 1315 GMT.

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 people outside Paris.

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The flight is one of three on Wednesday after months of redesigning and test flights following the crash.

The flight path for the sold-out Air France service was changed to avoid the town of Gonesse, where the supersonic jet crashed.

An invitation-only British Airways flight left London for the same city an hour later. BA is to resume fare-paying services on Friday.

In a third Concorde flight on Wednesday, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair will take the plane to Washington to meet U.S. President George Bush.

The new Concorde has been fitted with fuel-tank liners of bulletproof Kevlar, a flameproof reinforced undercarriage and newly designed, extra-resistant radial tires.

"One of the icons of the civil aviation industry is returning," Chris Yates, aviation safety editor at Jane's Transport in London told Reuters. "It's the shot in the arm that the industry needs."

Flying above turbulence at twice the speed of sound, the delta-winged aircraft crosses the Atlantic in about three and a half hours -- half the flying time of conventional jets.

A roundtrip Paris-New York ticket costs $7,300, while a London-New York roundtrip runs at $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 travelled Paris-New York roundtrip in one day to sign a contract. "It's not something you do because it's enjoyable." Air France and British Airways say they are confident the 100-seat planes can be filled despite the recent fall in trans-Atlantic travel since the terror attacks on the U.S. British Airways says it has already sold 7,000 seats.

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 Giuliani says Concorde's return is "symbolic of how all New Yorkers feel about rebuilding this great city."

And there is a touch of emotion about the way the resumption of flights is seen by 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," Henri Perrier, chief engineer on the aircraft's first test flight in 1969, told Reuters.

Perrier, 72, came out of retirement to join a French-British team of investigators and technicians working on Concorde after the crash near Paris.

"Nothing we knew would ever have led us to believe that such a catastrophe could happen," Perrier said.

A report on the cause of the crash is expected next year. Officials say they believe a metal strip on the runway ruptured a tyre 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.

New gourmet menus have been introduced on the Concordes, while 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 those sampling the food will no longer do so with fine silver cutlery. That has been swapped for plastic knives and forks following the September 11 attacks.



 
 
 
 


RELATED STORIES:
• Champagne and canapes in Concorde lounge
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• Gloom ahead warns BA chief
November 6, 2001

RELATED SITES:
• British Airways
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