British Airways has announced that it is to begin modifying its fleet of Concorde aircraft following the Paris air tragedy in which 113 people lost their lives.
The airline will be investing more than £30 million, with £17 million earmarked for safety related modifications. A further £14 million, announced last year, will be spent on new seats, cabin interiors and other customer service improvements.
Alpha Foxtrot is the first of its seven aircraft to be adapted. It is currently based at Heathrow, where engineers are preparing it for new linings to its fuel tanks and strengthened wiring in the undercarriage.
The new fuel tanks are made of a kevlar-rubber compound and have been designed to contain the fuel should the wing skin be punctured.
Current estimates are that it will take a team of 40 engineers around eight to ten weeks to carry out alterations to each aircraft.
Initial tests on the modifications, carried out by the manufacturers using advanced computer modelling and actual physical trials are said to be encouraging and were presented at the most recent meeting of the Anglo-French Government Concorde working group last month.
Once the modifications have been completed, Alpha Foxtrot will then be used for in-flight testing. Data will be collected and analysed to verify the operational effects of the tank liners, as well as on the aircraft’s fuel transfer systems and fuel gauges.
British Airways says it will then modify two Concorde aircraft at a time, until the entire fleet has been completed.
Provided the airworthiness authorities sign-off the modifications and no unforeseen issues arise from the investigation into the Paris tragedy, then British Airways expect aircraft’s certificate of airworthiness will be returned.
British Airways says they will carry out its own safety audit, drawing on the experience of technicians who have worked on Concorde throughout its lifetime in commercial service.
While no firm date has yet been targeted for a resumption of Concorde services, British Airways hopes to start flying passengers supersonically again in the spring of 2001, with an initial daily return service between London Heathrow and New York JFK.
‘British Airways has always said that we would only resume Concorde services once we are convinced we can do so safely,’ said Mike Street, British Airways’ Director of Customer Services and Operations. ‘We are confident that the modifications now underway will enable us to achieve this.’
An interim report from French air accident experts said the crash was almost certainly caused by a metal strip that fell from a Continental Airlines DC-10 plane onto the runway shortly before the Concorde took off.
The strip gashed one of the Concorde’s tyres, sending rubber debris hurtling towards fuel tanks causing a fuel leak and fire that brought the plane down.