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Friday, 15 December, 2000, 08:33 GMT
Concorde 'ready to fly'
BA Concorde
Concorde: BA is offering to take on all maintenance
British Airways Concordes are being kept in "tip top condition" and could be flying again as early as next March, according to its chief pilot.

Formula One technology is being used to help Concorde return to the skies less than a year after the entire fleet was grounded following the Air France crash in Paris.

BA is meeting Air France, air investigators, manufacturers and government officials from Britain and France to review a series of safety modifications.

The design is such that we can absolutely guarantee that a fire like the one that happened in Paris could never happen again

Concorde pilot Mike Bannister
These include fitting Concorde's fuel tanks with Kevlar linings, similar to those used in Formula One racing cars, and replacing wiring on the undercarriage with a reinforced system.

Engineers have been keeping the aircraft in working order during tests and a multi-million pound refit is being planned to tempt back passengers, should regulators give the all clear.

"The design is such that we can absolutely guarantee that a fire like the one that happened in Paris could never happen again," said Concorde chief pilot Mike Bannister.

The safety review meeting will discuss a timescale for the work which is designed to win back its certificate of air worthiness.

BA and Air France Concorde fleets were grounded in September, two months after an Air France flight leaving Paris caught fire and crashed minutes after take-off, killing 113 people.

Wiring could be to blame

French investigators, who have reassembled the crashed plane, say a piece of metal on the runway punctured a tyre which then ruptured a fuel tank.

They now believe the fuel ignited either because of a spark from electrical wiring in the undercarriage bay or as a result of hot gases from the front of the engines.

Air France Concorde
The doomed Air France Concorde
Reinforcing the fuel tanks with Kevlar and rubber lining is designed to prevent them from future punctures.

BA's chief Concorde pilot, Mike Bannister, said he was confident that the fleet would get back off the ground.

"We've been keeping the aeroplanes ticking over in tip top condition," he said. "A whole team of engineers have been keeping the aeroplane ready to fly."

He said the continuing engineering work and the multi-million pound cabin renovation plans showed BA's determination to get Concorde flying.

Life extension plan

BA is expected to tell the meeting that it is working towards getting three aircraft ready for London to New York passenger flights before Easter.

The airline says it would carry out all the maintenance, not only for its own planes but also the five remaining in the Air France fleet.

BA is also working on a life extension programme to give an extra 15 years to the 25-year-old aircraft.

Aviation experts have expressed fears that if the supersonic service is not back by summer 2001, the economic pressures may be such Concorde does not fly again.

But Paul Beaver, of Jane's, publishers of All the World's Aircraft, said the speedy and efficient service Concorde provides means customers will come flocking back.

"By the middle of the summer we will almost have forgotten that dreadful tragedy in Paris," he said.

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