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The BBC's John Sopel
"British Airways suspects the French are dragging their feet on the enquiry"
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Thursday, 7 December, 2000, 11:06 GMT
BA confident Concorde 'will fly again'
BA Concorde
BA hopes Concordes will fly again
British Airways says it is confident its grounded Concorde fleet will fly again despite a report highlighting two incidents where parts fell off a plane.

The carrier says it has already implemented five safety recommendations from the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) report into a Concorde that made an emergency landing after losing part of its wing.

Five months later, the same Concorde was found to have lost part of its rudder after crew members felt a "vibration plus a thump" during a flight.

All Concordes are currently grounded after the Air France tragedy in Paris which killed 113 people in July, but BA said the incidents, which occurred in 1998, have no relevance to the investigation into that crash.

A spokesman told BBC News Online: "We remain confident that Concorde will fly again soon."

The crew of the Concorde, G-BOAC, aborted a supersonic flight from London's Heathrow airport to New York in May 1998 after feeling a "shudder" run through the plane, the AAIB said.

Air France Concorde
The doomed Air France Concorde
The crew felt the plane shudder for two to three seconds just minutes after it broke the sound barrier over the Bristol Channel, with 53 passengers on board.

An engineer saw part of the wing was missing and the plane was slowed to below the speed of sound and it returned to Heathrow, landing safely about two hours later.

In October 1998, the same Concorde was flying at twice the speed of sound between Heathrow and New York when the crew felt a "vibration plus a thump".

"There was a continuous slight vibration felt in the cabin, similar in feel to light turbulence," the AAIB report said.

The plane, which was built in 1975, was near the coast of Newfoundland and the pilot decided to continue to New York, where the Concorde landed safely. It had 62 passengers on board.

Engineers there found that up to 70% of the lower section of the rudder was missing.

Safety recommendations

The report into the May incident said part of one of the elevons - a moving section of the wing used to control pitch and roll - had separated from the wing.

Elevon failure had previously been reported on two Air France Concordes but no safety recommendations were made after investigations.

The AAIB report said it was not possible to pinpoint why the elevon had failed but said its effects on the controllability of the Concorde were "negligible".

The report into the October incident said the effect on pilots' ability to control the plane had also been minimal.

It said both the rudder and elevon failure had probably been caused by a small "disbond", which had grown after manufacture.

It recommended that BA and Air France should consider changing their safety checks on Concorde wings, and replacing elevons at risk of failure because of frequent repairs.


We remain confident that Concorde will fly again soon

British Airways spokesman
The report also recommended regular Civil Aviation Authority inspections of part of the rudder.

A BA spokesman said all five safety recommendations had been implemented and added: "Our flight crews handled events with customary professionalism.

"The aircraft continued to fly perfectly normally and made normal, uneventful landings."

Chris Yates, aviation safety and security editor for specialist publishers Jane's Transport, said: "They are serious incidents.

"There is always a danger when bits fall off an aircraft but the degree of danger is determined by the bit.

'Never uncontrollable'

"But at no time was either aircraft uncontrollable."

He said if a plane was to lose the use of the whole of its rudder, the consequences would be far more serious.

BA, Air France, the plane's manufacturers and safety bodies are all working on design modifications that could see Concorde flying again by early next year.

Mr Yates said many Concorde incidents could be looked at before a decision was made to allow BA's fleet to fly again.

He added: "BA would certainly like to see their aircraft back in the air sooner rather than later.

"If the fleet isn't back by summer 2001 the economic pressures may be such that Concorde doesn't fly again."

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See also:

23 Oct 00 | Europe
New clue to Concorde crash
21 Sep 00 | Europe
Concorde lands safely
06 Sep 00 | Europe
Concorde 'will fly again'
15 Aug 00 | Europe
BA grounds Concorde
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