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Concorde completes safety tests

PARIS, France -- Engineers say Concorde could be airborne again shortly after a series of “very positive” runway safety tests.

The supersonic jetliners have been grounded since one crashed last July, killing 113 people including four on the ground.

The Air France Concorde used in the tests at a long airstrip in Istres, southern France, returns on Saturday to Charles de Gaulle airport near Paris, the site of the crash.

Air France and British Airways, the only companies that own Concordes, hope to recover the planes' commercial flight permit in the coming months, and next plan to test a British Airways model.

"At first glance these (runway) tests appear to have been very positive," said a spokesman for EADS-Airbus, a unit of the European EADS aerospace firm which coordinated the Istres tests.

"But we must analyse them and then present a report for the French and British authorities," he said, confirming the plan to begin flight tests with a BA Concorde next month.

At five km (three miles) and the lengthiest in France, the runway being used in Istres provides ample room for the Concorde to brake after hitting speeds of 200-kph (125 mph) on the tarmac.

French Transport Minister Jean-Claude Gayssot said last month he expected the planes to resume service later this year once tests on both Air France and British Airways Concordes had shown a similar disaster could be avoided in the future.

The work in France complements $25 million worth of tests being carried out on BA Concordes at Heathrow airport in west London.

BA started fitting bullet-proof liners to the fuel tanks of its Concordes this week in an effort to strengthen the underside of the aircraft and prevent a similar accident happening again.

Within the next couple of months BA hope one of its Concordes will make a test flight with the aim of returning both BA's and Air France's fleet to passenger service by the spring.

A British Airways spokesman also said the company expected aviation authorities to reinstate Concorde's overall airworthiness certificate and hoped service would gradually be resumed with one daily London to New York flight in the spring.



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