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Tuesday, 6 November, 2001, 18:20 GMT
Concorde 'back where she belongs'
Concorde takes off
Concorde is restarting commercial flights
Concorde resumes commercial flights on Wednesday after an extensive refit in the wake of the fatal crash of an Air France Concorde in July, 2000.

BBC News Online's Hilary Bowden talks to some of the staff who helped to get her airborne again.

The tannoy on the world's most exclusive jet springs into life.

"Good morning ladies and gentleman, it is my great pleasure to welcome you aboard Concorde this morning.

"Taking her back to where she belongs. To Mach 2, on the edge of space where you can see the curvature of the earth and travel at twice the speed of sound."

Captain Mike Bannister: Delighted to be back
In a hangar at Heathrow, Concorde's pilot Mike Bannister is practising his passenger patter ahead of Concorde's return to the skies on Wednesday.

It's been a long time coming. The whole Concorde fleet was grounded following the crash of an Air France jet outside Paris on 25 July 2000, which killed 109 persons on board and four on the ground.

Severe blow

It was the first crash in the plane's 25 years of commercial service but it dealt a severe blow to the reputation of the prestige aircraft.


I'd fly it for nothing

Chief Concorde pilot Mike Bannister
Crash investigators believe that a stray strip of metal on the runway punctured one of the jet's tyres, which exploded causing a fuel leak which caught fire.

Safety modifications have been made and engineers are confident the same scenario cannot happen again.

Concorde engineering manager Claud Freeman, 40, said: "Some passengers are still a bit nervous but if we had any doubts, it would not be flying."

His confidence is shared by Captain Bannister, 52, who will be flying from London to New York.

One hundred passengers will be paying nearly 7,000 each for the privilege of joining him cruising at around 1,350mph.

"I have been flying since I was 17 and I have complete faith in Concorde. I never doubted for a moment that it would return to service.

"It is a fabulous aircraft. Don't tell British Airways but I'd probably fly it for nothing. It's a bit like having the biggest trainset in the world," he said.

Financial crisis

British Airways are just as anxious to get the world's most luxurious jet back in the air again.

The exclusive fleet of Concordes help to rake in 20m a year for the company and for crisis-hit airlines every penny counts these days.

Tony Blair flying back from the Middle East on Thursday
Tony Blair will be one of Concorde's first customers
On Tuesday British Airways announced that quarterly profits had plummeted 98% as the economy slows down and airlines chase a dwindling number of passengers.

Fear of flying also took on a whole new dimension following the terrorist attacks of September 11. Security procedures have been tightened on Concorde as a result.

There will be no more wandering down to the cockpit - for a quick chat with the Captain or flight engineer. They will be locked in and there are plans for reinforced doors. All the cutlery on board will also be plastic.

Captain Bannister said: "It is sad but the world has changed."

However the prospects of Concorde's loyal customers returning are looking good. The first flight is completely full and advance bookings are flowing in.

Terence Conran has helped to remodel the interior of the aircraft with soft leather seats and subdued lighting for the comfort of passengers.

Star passengers

Former Beatle Paul McCartney and pop superstar Madonna are among the long list of Concorde regulars along with Sting, Elton John, Phil Collins and Sir Cliff Richard.

British film director Michael Winner, who has flown Concorde more than 300 times, has already booked a flight to Barbados in December.

Soft leather seats
Terence Conran has helped to design the interior of the jet
"I am delighted it's back. I would have been happy to fly it the day after the accident."

Prime Minister Tony Blair is also booked to fly on Concorde's first day back in service.

But not all the beautiful people are looking forward to settling into Concorde's plush leather seats.

Tori Edwards, director of London-based Models One agency, said she won't be booking Concorde flights for her supermodel clients, who include Jerry Hall, Elizabeth Jagger and Erin O'Connor.

"We'd think twice about it. I think we'll wait and see how things go. There's a bit of a question mark now."

But despite her misgivings, she did not think Concorde would ever lose its glamorous image.

"It will always be a really cool way to travel."

Anyone watching the supersonic aircraft take to the skies again on Wednesday will find it hard to disagree.

A powerful symbol for a beleagured airline industry trying to fight back.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Robert Hall
"British Airways believe the effect on morale will be something to work for"
The Concorde Crash

Return to the skies?

The investigation

The crash

INTERACTIVE GUIDE

TALKING POINT

FORUM

FROM THE ARCHIVE

AUDIO VIDEO
See also:

02 Nov 01 | Business
02 Nov 01 | Politics
15 Oct 01 | Business
06 Nov 01 | Business
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