RETURN TO SERVICE - FULL STORY
CHAPTER 1
GROUNDED

G-BOAF operates the BA001 on July 26th 2000
On July 25th only hours after the accident in Paris, British Airways decided to cancel their BA003/4 evening Concorde services as a mark of respect to those who died. The next day Concorde was back in the air as the Uk based airline had maintained its confidence in the fundamental safety of Concorde's design.

"BA took the decision to go ahead with the flights to New York after carrying out extensive checks overnight on its fleet."

"We have complete confidence in our Concorde aircraft and we believe there is no technical, safety or operational evidence to suggest that Concorde should not operate safely into the future," said BA's customer services and operations director Mike Street.

Mike Street said: "BA's first concern is always safety. All our aircraft are subject to continuing and exhaustive safety checks."

"We have complete confidence in our Concorde aircraft. We cancelled last night's two services while initial information on the Air France tragedy was coming in."

Mr Street went on: "Now we have had initial information from Air France and other relevant organisations from yesterday's incident. We have carried out extensive checks overnight to our Concordes operating today - to engines, airframes, hydraulic and other systems. "

"We have liaised closely with the relevant air safety authorities and the aircraft and engine manufacturers. We believe there is no technical, safety or operational evidence to suggest that Concorde should not operate safely in the future."

He said also that "No information from Air France or the French or British airworthiness authorities which leads us to believe that we should ground BA's Concorde fleet".

Mr Street added: "Meantime, our thoughts and sympathies remain with our colleagues at Air France, and those involved in this tragedy. We have been in touch with Air France regularly since yesterday's tragedy and offered any assistance we can provide."

Right on time the BA001 departed from Heathrow shortly after 10:30, 49 passengers were on board out of 78 that had originally booked.

G-BOAG departs from New York, as BA002, on July 26th (Reuters)
Speaking after checking-in at Heathrow, South African stockbroker Steven Bacher, 39, said he was undaunted by the tragedy in Paris.

"It's my first and I hope not my last flight on Concorde. I will be nervous for the first five minutes but after that I will be fine."

Brian Pople, an electrical contractor from Watford, said: "Lightning doesn't strike twice, It's only happened once in 30 years. If I thought it wasn't safe I wouldn't be going.

Additional safety checks were carried out daily and for the first 2 weeks in August the airline continued to fly its flagship BA001/002 services between London and New York. During the quiet month of August, the airline would traditionally not operate the evening BA 003/004 services, as many of the business client that these flights served would be on annual holiday.

Passengers depart from G-BOAG in Gander
Minor technical problems that occurred during this time, that would usually be never mentioned, were picked up by the media as big events - although in reality they were nothing more that inconveniences. On one occasion a back up aircraft had to be substituted when the ground engineers could not connect the re-fuelling hose to G-BOAG for the morning departure to New York. When the aircraft carried out the next service that evening, fuel fumes seeped into the cabin though Concorde's Achilles heel.....its complex air conditioning system. As a safety precaution the aircraft diverted to Gander to be met by the worlds media, who had the story they were all looking for.

The Aircraft's case not helped by the fact that a passenger on board had a video camera with him and was recording everything that went on, including a very worried looking Tony Bennett and George Benson. Once the aircraft landed he made the tape available to the TV news media, who beamed it around the world.

The killer blow to the operation came only a few weeks later on August 15th 2000: As the morning BA001 service, being operated by G-BOAC, was taxing from Heathrow's terminal 4 to the runway, British Airways were contacted by the CAA to tell them that Concorde's certificate of airworthiness would be officially withdrawn the following day August 16th 2000.

G-BOAC is towed back to the gate on August 15th 2000
Preliminary investigation results from the accident site had found that the main cause of the accident was a tyre burst. Although the actual sequence of events turned out to be a very complex chain, everything appeared to start from that one initial burst.

Such an event should not be able to bring down an airliner, so the aviation authorities had no option but to suspend the aircraft airworthiness type certification.

Rod Eddington
The chief executive of British Airways, Rod Eddington, explained the unprecedented step to ground the aircraft:

"We were notified this morning by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch that, in the light of latest information available to it, and its French counterpart, the BEA, it would tomorrow recommend that the certificate of airworthiness for the aircraft would be suspended. "

"We discussed this with the CAA [Civil Aviation Authority] and we understand that it would be minded to accept this advice."

As speculation grew about Concorde's future, David Learmount of Flight International magazine said: "This action is basically saying that this aircraft is not airworthy"

"If modifications are possible, and needed, then the airline will have to decide whether it would be commercially viable to do so."

The CAA said that in discussions with the international team investigating the crash it had become aware that the likely interim finding of the inquiry was that "a single tyre burst" had caused the catastrophe - Concorde's first fatal accident in 25 years of commercial operation. It said the authority believed that Concorde's operating certificate should now be suspended "to enable further measures to be considered to ensure a satisfactory level of safety exists with regard to the risks associated with tyre bursts of Concorde"

At the time many media organisations criticised British Airways for its decision to continue flying the aircraft. Chief executive Rod Eddington defended the decision saying that he did not regret the decision to keep flying: "We took the right decision at the time," he said. "We worked closely with the investigators and regulators on a daily basis. We have been flying this aircraft in commercial service for 25 years. It's done 50,000 flights with us and it has a terrific record."

The aircraft is towed to the hanger, to face an uncertain future
G-BOAC was taxied back to the gate and the passengers disembarked to be flown to New York on a subsonic aircraft. The aircraft was towed back to the British Airways maintenance hanger where it remained for more than 23 months, far longer than anyone ever imagined.

As well as the BA001 service being cancelled the return flight from New York also had to be cancelled. BA was given special dispensation by the CAA to fly the aircraft, G-BOAB, back from New York with only the flight deck crew on board. Captain Les Brodie and his crew flew the aircraft across the Atlantic hoping that they would not be the final crew to ever fly Concorde from New York. On Arrival back in London the aircraft taxied straight back to the BA Technical area and into storage.

Was the Concorde story at an end or was this just another chapter in the story - that was the question that everyone wanted answered but no one at this stage could even begin to answer. The pessimists were heard to say she would never fly again. The optimists' views were very different.