British Airways Seeks Way to Resume Concorde Service After Grounding

British Airways Seeks Way to Resume Concorde Service After Grounding

Despite accusations that the death knell has tolled, British Airways [BAB] Aug. 16 announced this week that it would take every step possible to resume Concorde services, following a decision by British and French authorities to withdraw the airworthiness certificate of the world’s only supersonic passenger carrier.

British Airways had on Aug. 15 suspended service of it flagship following advice from the United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) that the aircraft was deemed unsafe to fly.

France’s Direction General de l’Aviation Civile and Bureau Enquetes d’ Accidents and, on advice from the French, their British counterparts Aug. 16 announced that investigations had unearthed Concorde’s tires as the most plausible explanation of the fatal July 25 crash. “The Accidents Investigations Authorities have reached conclusions regarding the cause of the accident. They have reviewed the evidence gathered to date and are confident that the first significant event in the sequence was the bursting of the front inboard tyre (sic) No. 2 on the main landing gear,” explained CAA’s Chairman Sir Malcolm Field at a morning press conference in London Aug. 16.

“(T)he Certificates of Airworthiness of Concorde (is) to be suspended until appropriate measures have been taken to ensure a satisfactory level of safety as far as tyre (sic) destruction is concerned,” he added. A more detailed explanation of the presumed causes of the Air France accident are contained in the letter right from Ken Smart, AAIB’s chief inspector of air accidents.

Hopes of Retaining Glory

The setback has not stopped BA from considering Concorde a feasible means of transport. “(BA) will urgently be seeking meetings with Concorde’s manufacturers (now under the auspices of European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company – EADS) and the airworthiness authorities to help develop measures to enable the aircraft to resume operations as soon as possible,” said BA in an Aug.16 statement.

But there may be problems. Research into civilian supersonic transport (SST) effectively died over 30 years ago with the birth if Concorde, an aircraft that proved how difficult the goal was to attain. EADS confirmed this week that its current SST research program is minimal, and the only other likely developer, Boeing [BA], killed a multi-billion dollar joint research program with National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 1999 because the concept was not commercially viable. A quick look at possible solution for Concorde’s problems, dominated by talk of an engine shroud (bolting on another piece of metal to the engine cover) illustrate the lack of real development in the field.

BA may not get its way. However, some analysts believe the airline will push for a resumption of service purely for the good of its bottom line. Unlike Air France, BA is understood to have little insurance to cover non-service for its Concorde fleet (Air France is covered until November).

Concorde also means far more to BA. According to Credit Lyonnais Securities Europe analyst Philippe Gossard: “The load factor registered by BA for Concorde flights (80 percent) seems to be higher than the load factor registered by Air France for Concorde flights (60 percent). With our assumptions, Concorde flights for BA represent 2.8 percent of scheduled services for passenger in 1999/2000 (1.5 percent for Air France). If we take an operating margin of 6 percent for Concorde flights, lost EBIT (earnings before interest and taxation) on an annual basis for 1999/2000 represent 9.1 percent of BA EBIT.”

BA naturally denies that its decision is economically driven, maintaining that Concorde only contributes 1-2 percent of revenues.

But BA is not alone. One senior industry commentator told World Airline News that Concorde will be flying by year-end. “If this media attention and investigation process was applied to the vast majority of the world’s airplanes, very few would now be in the air,” he said.

Group Director

Safety Regulation

Civil Aviation Authority

Aviation House

Gatwick Airport South

West Sussex RH6 OYR

Monsieur le Directeur General

De l’Aviation Civile

50 rue Henry Farman

75720 Paris

Cedex 15

August 16, 2000

Dear Sir:

The technical investigation into the accident to Concorde F-BTSC operated by Air France which occurred at Gonesse on 25 July 2000 conducted by the BEA, with the participation of representatives of the AAIB, has so far established the following facts:

During the take-off run the front right tyre of the left main landing gear was destroyed between V2 and VR, very probably because it ran over a piece of metal.

The destruction of the tyre has caused damage, either directly or indirectly, to the aircraft structure and systems, leading to the crash less than one minute and thirty seconds after the destruction of the tyre.

The damage sequence and the links between the various events are not yet fully established, nevertheless, the following events occurred:

The crew had no means to make them aware of the nature of the fire nor to take action to contain it.

Moreover, the in-service experience shows that tyre damage during taxi, take-off or landing is not an unlikely event on Concorde and that it may actually lead to damage to the structure and to systems. However, this has never led to a fuel fed fire.

The accident that occurred on July 25, 2000, has thus shown that the destruction of a tyre – a simple event which cannot be asserted not to re-occur c has had catastrophic consequences in a very short timescale without the crew being able to recover from this situation.

Consequently, without prejudice to additional elements that may arise during the course of the investigation, the BEA and the AAIB recommend to the Direction Generale de l’Aviation Civile of France and the Civil Aviation Authority of the United Kingdom that:

The certificates of airworthiness of Concorde be suspended until appropriate measures have been taken to ensure a satisfactory level of safety as far as the tyre destruction based risk is concerned.

Yours faithfully,

KEN SMART, CBE

Chief Inspector of Air Accidents

COPYRIGHT 2000 Phillips Publishing International, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group