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Former concorde pilot John Hutchinson
"It is a very tough aeroplane plane, it is built in a very robust manner"
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Tuesday, 25 July, 2000, 17:15 GMT 18:15 UK
Concorde 'still the safest'
Air France Concorde
Former pilot says Concorde remains the safest aeroplane in the skies
A former British Airways Concorde pilot says that the supersonic jet remains one of the safest aircraft in the skies despite the tragedy in France.

Captain John Hutchinson, who flew Concorde for 15 years, told BBC Radio 4's PM programme he was "shattered" to learn that one of the planes had crashed into a hotel north of Paris, killing more than 100 people.

It's a beautiful aeroplane to fly, it's a responsive, thoroughbred of an aircraft

Capt John Hutchinson
But he added: "It is in my view, and remains so in my view, the safest aeroplane that is flying in the skies today, for two reasons.

"One, is that it's a very tough aeroplane, it's built in a very robust manner, and secondly it's got tremendous reserve capacity, by that I mean it's got a huge excess in capacity and power on the engines, all that sort of thing.

"So it's a very very safe aeroplane. And in my view, in spite of this accident, it remains so."

The Air France aircraft crashed in flames into the Hotel Lessemo in the town of Gonesse, north of Paris, two minutes after take-off from Charles de Gaulle airport.

Eyewitnesses reported seeing one of the aircraft's engines on fire, and said the pilot was struggling to gain altitude from take-off.

But Capt Hutchinson said the Concorde would have taken off with its "full reheat afterburner" engaged and the orange glow and possible flames coming from the back of the aircraft could have confused untrained eyes.

Had the reports been correct, however, the captain said the flames would have suggested "catastrophic engine failure".

British Airways is reviewing its flight operations in the light of the tragedy and is expected to make an announcement on whether its seven-strong Concorde fleet will be grounded for checks.

'No link to cracks'

Capt Hutchinson said the tiny cracks which had been found in the wings of British Airways' Concordes - reported on Monday - were unlikely to have caused the French disaster.

"I don't think it is right to draw any sort of a parallel between the Air France Concordes and the British Airways Concordes and I don't believe the cracks have anything to do with it at all.

"But obviously British Airways is absolutely right to assess all the information they have available to them and if it was by chance considered to be some sort of serious failure in the aeroplane then they would be quite right to ground the aeroplanes until they had got it sorted out."

"But in my experience, in my knowledge of that aeroplane it is extremely unlikely that it is anything like that."

The captain insisted Concorde was a joy to fly.

He said: "It's a beautiful aeroplane to fly, it's a responsive, thoroughbred of an aircraft.

"It is the most beautiful aeroplane out of all the 70 aeroplanes I've flown in my life, far and away the most beautiful aeroplane I've ever flown."

Concorde's only previous major scare came in 1979, when a bad landing blew out a plane's tyres. The incident led to a design modification.

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See also:

25 Jul 00 | Europe
Concorde Paris crash kills 113
24 Jul 00 | UK
Q& A: Cracks in Concorde
09 Apr 99 | The Company File
Supersonic birthday
14 Sep 99 | UK Politics
'Ace' spy revealed Concorde secrets
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