16.1 Flight Preparation at Air France

At Air France, four units take part in preparing for flights: Flight Planning, Flight Departure, Ramp and Traffic.

16.1.1 Flight Planning

Preparation for the flight starts around H-5 hours, H being the time planned for departure. The agent responsible for the plan draws up a flight dossier, parts of which are required by regulations to be archived for one month. He uses a computer program which includes the characteristics of each aircraft and, among other things, informs of NOTAMs, danger areas, aircraft limitations in relation to the prevailing conditions and generates the flight plan. As far as Concorde is concerned, certain elements, particularly the forecast takeoff weight and the fuel required for the flight, are calculated manually. Once the preparation is finished, the computer-processed part of the flight dossier is sent on automatically to the flight departure section while the manual part is passed on by the agent.

16.1.2 Flight Departure

The crew come to "Flight Departure" to collect and study their flight dossier. The latest meteorological information available is generally added to this dossier one or two hours before departure. Once he has studied the dossier, the Captain signs the fuel loading sheet. This sheet is archived for one month.

16.1.3 Ramp

The personnel preparing the aircraft on the ramp is as follows:

16.1.4 Traffic

From H-2 hours to about H-1, the dispatcher undertakes what is called the "D1" role for flight preparation and planning. In this context, he performs the following tasks:

From H-1 hour , he co-ordinates any actions on the aircraft on the ground and undertakes the final "D3" role of updating the data for the Gaetan system. At H-10 minutes, the weight and balance data have to be finalised. The corresponding sheet is handed over to the crew and signed by the Captain.

Note: the quantity of fuel taken on-board is requested directly by the flight crew. In no event can the dispatcher modify this without the approval of the flight crew.

16.2 Aircraft Loading

On the day of the accident, a certain number of items of baggage present on the aircraft (twenty-nine in all) were declared to be unidentified.

When baggage is checked in, the Gaetan system sends information to the BRS, (the baggage reconciliation system allowing for cross-checking as required by regulations for security purposes) enabling the baggage to be identified (label number or tag, passenger¹s name, etc.). This information is stored in the BRS database and Gaétan simultaneously updates the baggage load condition on the dispatcher¹s screen in real time.

During loading, the supervisor uses his portable terminal to read the number on the label attached to the baggage. This information is transmitted to the BRS, which authorises loading. If the number is not present in the database, the response will be "tag unknown".

For flight AFR 4590, the seats were assigned by name and a collective ticket issued in Paris. On departure of feeder flights (e.g., Dusseldorf ­ Paris), items of baggage were registered in the Gaétan system for those flights only, although they were labelled on to New York. Separate entry of data (weight and tag) therefore also had to be made for flight AFR 4590, though it appears that this was not done systematically, which explains why certain items of baggage were not recognised by the BRS.

These items were finally loaded once the dispatcher had checked that all the passengers were on board, that all baggage was clearly labelled and that they had all gone through X-ray inspection.

A comparison of the Gaétan and BRS printouts for flight AFR 4590 and the feeder flights shows that the items of baggage with "tags unknown" had not, in fact, been taken into account by the Gaetan system. As a result, they were not taken into account in the computerised load sheet used by the dispatcher to calculate the weight of baggage loaded on board.

However, ten items of baggage planned for the flight and accounted for in the Gaétan system were not loaded, which brings to nineteen the number of additional items of baggage taken on board as compared with the load report.

16.3 Observation and Pictures of the Event

The following was provided by examination of pictures available of the accident flight and from reports by various people who were at the airport or saw the aircraft flying. These in no way represent the conclusions of the investigation.

Copying forbidden - Source Buzz Pictures/Corbis Sygma
The initial fire began under the wing, between the left engine nacelles and the fuselage, a few seconds before the start of takeoff rotation, the aircraft being in the vicinity of W7 or S5. A small flame apparently appeared suddenly, similar to a blowtorch, and then got wider (enveloping the left engines) and longer (about the length of a fuselage). This flame was accompanied by thick black smoke. The noise of the aircraft was perhaps different from normal.

After having passed over the freight zone, the aircraft stopped climbing, with an apparently constant pitch attitude and with the landing gear extended. It flew over the N17 road at about two hundred feet, turned to the left at a steep bank angle, pitched nose up and crashed left wing first. There was a conflagration followed by one or more explosions.

Copying forbidden - Source Buzz Pictures/Corbis Sygma

16.4 Previous Events

Since the Concorde's entry into service, six cases of damage to tanks have been recorded. No case of a fuel fire had ever been encountered. The examination of these events is under way.