Groupe Air France will fly one of its Concorde aircraft on Thursday 18th Jan from Roissy airport near Paris to the airbase at Istres in the Bouches-du-Rhone region in the extreme south of the country for tests, informed sources said Thursday. The event would mark the first take off of a Concorde from Charles de Gaulle since the crash nearly six months ago.
Air France said that the company will hold a press conference at Roissy to explain the nature of its test programme for the plane before the flight takes place.
The General Management of the French Civil Aviation Authority (DGAC) delivered a provisional " return pass " on Monday 15th Jan To Air France to allow Concorde to leave the Parisian airport of Roissy-Charles of Gaulle in order to travel the air base of Istres (in south-eastern France). This authorization followed the request for EADS Airbus to carry out rolling tests to validate the modifications under consideration for the Concorde fleet.
The pass, which is also valid for the return journey between the 18 January and February 18 2001, does not authorize the transport of passengers. The document also sets out details of the preparation and maintenance chcks that must be completed on the aircraft, and stipulates that takeoff will be carried out "after a detailed inspection of the runway". It specifies moreover the methods of use of the plane in configuration of tests, in particular the composition of the crew.
The Concorde expected to be used is F-BVFB as it is expected to be flow by the same crew that repatriated Concorde, F-BVFC, from New York in September last year. The captin of that flight was Edgard Chillaud ,Chief of the Air France Concorde department.
The choice of this particular airplane would be due to the absence of cracks detected on many the rear wing spans of the aircraft earlier this year during regular Air France maintenance checks. These problems were discovered later on the British Airways fleet, causing 1 aircraft G-BOAE to be grounded so repairs could be carried out.
The fix applied to the aircraft for this fault would limit the output of any fuel spill in case of wheel disintegration to less than 0.4 litres per second, which would prevent the any major fire fuel fire taking place. The weight penalty generated by the repairs would be around 400 kg.
The aircraft is expected to undergo high-speed ground tests at the aircraft testing and experimental centre at Istres. These high speed ground test on the long runway at Istres would try to determine how the plae's fuel leaked from the tanks and caught fire.
If the French tests are successful, British Airways is then expected to carry out the proving flights using one of its own Concordes, possibly from Shannon in Ireland, hopefully in the 2nd or 3rd week week of March provided the tight deadlines can be met. Engineers have started fitting the French made fuel tank inner liners to Concorde G-BOAF (aircraft 216). This will be first Concorde to be fitted with the liners to allow testing of the solution that would stop a repeat of the massive fuel leak that caused Air France Concorde Accident. Modifications will also be carried out the sheild the hydraulics and Landing gear power systens
The test programme the British Airways want to initiate will last at least two months, concentrating on two main modifications: a floating Kevlar-rubber lining in the aircraft's fuel tanks - to prevent the large loss of fuel that created the huge wall of flame behind the doomed Air France aircraft - and extra protection for the critical electrical and hydraulic systems located on the underside of the wing.
If both sets of test results prove positive, both airlines are aiming to return the aircraft to service by the summer before it becomes uneconomical to keep the 12 remaining aircraft grounded.
Maintaining its fleet of seven Concordes and keeping the crews as close to flight-ready as possible has so far cost BA around £40m (459.8m). The proposed modifications are expected to cost a further £10m
Meanwhile, French Transport Minister Jean-Claude Gayssot said on Sunday that flights of the grounded supersonic Concorde jet would probably resume sometime this year. Speaking on RMC radio, Gayssot said manufacturers of the aircraft were convinced their proposals for safety modifications and improvements to the jet would lead to flights in 2001.
Gayssot said he was waiting to have all possible guarantees, including the results of tests to be conducted by British and French manufacturers, and would follow the experts' advice.
The French minister said he would make the final decision on when Concorde would return to commercial service.