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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 May, 2003, 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK
French Concordes bow out gracefully
An Air France Concorde
Air France has been flying Concordes for 27 years
An aviation legend can look forward to a stately retirement, after an Air France decision to donate four Concordes to museums around the world.

One major aviation institution in the United States, one in Germany and two in France will be offered a supersonic aircraft each in June.

There are also plans to put a fifth Concorde belonging to the Air France fleet on display at Paris's Charles-de-Gaulle airport.

CONCORDE RECIPIENTS
Technik Museum Speyer, Sinsheim, Germany
Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, Washington, USA
Musee de l'Air et de l'Espace, Le Bourget, France
European aviation group Airbus, Toulouse, France
The airline's last commercial flight with Concorde takes off from New York on Saturday, ending a 27-year history, though British Airways flights will continue until October.

"For Air France, Concorde belongs to humanity's aviation heritage and it must therefore be possible to see and admire it," the airline said on Wednesday.

"This will be true of the entire Air France Concorde fleet: all planes that belong to it will be presented to the public."

'Tragedy'

Air France's decision shocked Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson, who tried in vain to buy the supersonic planes for his Virgin Atlantic airline.

I'm sad to see a strong image of France coming to an end
Former Concorde chef Alain Ducasse
"We think it's a tragedy," a spokesman for Virgin told the AFP news agency.

"The minimum would be to keep them in flight and preserve them for historic reasons," he went on.

But French expert aviation expert Pierre Condom was sceptical about Mr Branson's aspirations.

"It's a bluff, it's a total fraud," he told French television.

"First of all, there are no spare parts - the series was stopped a long time ago," he explained.

"The know-how only exists in two companies: Air France and British Airways... It's impossible," he added.

Passion

Former test pilot Jean Pinet does not believe there will be a successor to Concorde.

"The challenges to be overcome are extremely great and not today's priority," he told the TV.

"The priorities are mass transport, jumbo jets and so on," he added.

Former Concorde chef Alain Ducasse said the flights combined high performance, beauty and a real family spirit.

"It was the family of Air France and all those people who spent their lives - their time and their passion - on the work of Concorde," he said.

"I'm sad to see a strong image of France coming to an end," he added.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.




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