Decisions to be made

Wraped up to prevent the new paint being damaged, F-BTSD under modification in Paris (Martine Tlouzeau)
September 11th had hung a cloud over Concorde yet again, not for the first time in its life it faced an uncertain future. British Airways and Air France took the decision to do nothing, but simply continue on the path to modifying enough aircraft, so that when the time was right they could restart services.

At best it would still be another 4 weeks before three aircraft would be available to allow a resumption of service, so decisions on a resumption date could be put back until the worldwide climate for air travel and the important New York market were further understood.

After the completion of the first operation assessment flight and no apparent need to rush to do a second flight British Airways took the time out to bring Alpha Foxtrot into the hanger for a week-long service check. These check take place fleet wide after each aircraft has flown for 250 hours.

With the terrible events in New York and Washington only a week old British Airways received a request from the Prime Ministers office, in Downing Street, to charter an aircraft to take Tony Blair on an urgent trip to meet US President George W. Bush. The PM's office also inquired about the possible use of Concorde as its certificate of airworthiness had just been restored. Although only one of many available options there was a small problem - BA didn't have an aircraft available due to the service check that was underway.

As Downing Street had not made up its mind on the preferred method of transport, British Airways decided that they would switch all available staff from carrying out the mods on G-BOAE and G-BOAG to assist where they could on completing Alpha-Foxtrot's service check as soon as possible, so it would be available if it was really needed.

As it turned out the Prime Minister's travel schedule for the week, that included the visit to the US, took him on a whirlwind trip around Europe. The PM's office decided to charter a Boeing 777 for the entire tour and fly directly to the USA from his last point of call in Europe, Belgium.

With modifications complete, G-BOAE is prepared for rollout at Heathrow
British Airways could return their staff to completing the post modification tests on Alpha-Echo and the tank liner fit on Alpha-Golf. The airline needed three aircraft ready to operate the BA001 services. This would allow an aircraft to operate the BA001, with a second available as a standby.

The third aircraft would allow enough flexibility for routine maintenance tasks to be carried out. Since the commencement of Concorde services in the late 1970s, it had been company policy to provide a standby aircraft for all their Heathrow departures, this was a feature that was key to BA's level of service and they wanted it to continue. Having to cancel a service just as the aircraft was gaining passenger confidence would not be the best public relations move.

Tank liners being fitted to an Air France aircraft in Paris.
In Paris engineers from Air France, along with contractors from EADS, worked round the clock to complete the modifications on Air France's Concorde F-BVFC and F-BTSD. Air France hoped to have 2 or possibly 3 aircraft airworthy by the time they re-launched their 5-day a week service in November.

Air France's Company policy did not call for a stand-by aircraft, but they would as a matter of course attempt to provide one when they could.

After 4 months of work British Airways' engineers completed the modifications and testing on Alpha Echo. On September 24th she was rolled out of the same hanger Alpha-Foxtrot had occupied, to begin a week long series of ground checks and engine runs before she could fly a verification airtest, although a great deal of the final test and checks were able to be carried out in the majors dock.

The airlines management were hopefully that the aircraft would only require one airtest, but since she had been on the ground for much longer had planed to carry out a second if it was required. Alpha-Echo had been grounded a month before the rest of the fleet when minor cracks were detected by the engineering team in the rear no 72 wing spar, during a routine maintenance check, when the engine's secondary nozzle assembly had been removed.

A fleet wide strengthening fix was in development by the manufacturers as similar, but not as serve, cracks had been found on the majority of the aircraft on both sides of the channel, after checks brought on by the discovery on G-BOAE. When the aircraft were grounded the fix was applied, before the modifications got underway on each aircraft.

This was a mandatory modification, that a separate airworthiness directive (AD) was issued for by the authorities, affirming that must be completed before the aircraft could fly.

Alpha-Echo lands back at Heathrow after her first flight in more than 15 months
On the 28th of September Captain Les Brodie (Concorde training captain) taxied G-BOAE out for her airtest. Flight BA 9185E departed from Runway 09R at Heathrow for a 3 hour flight that would fully test the systems on board the aircraft that had not been used since June 2000. The aircraft performed near flawlessly and no major issues needed work when the aircraft returned from the test.

With two operation aircraft and the third not too far behind, British Airways could start enter final stage in their return to service programme and would shortly be able to announce the date when services would restart.

The Modification work on G-BOAG, although progressing well, was slightly behind schedule due to the last few Kevlar tank liners having to be sent back for modification at the last minute. It was looking like the re-launch date would move back to early November, giving the airline more time to see how the aviation market was settling after the recent events. It was also though that it would not be right to go flying back into New York, so soon after the atrocities, with a Concorde re-launch flight.

Air France looked to be on course to re-launch service in early November with Fox-Bravo and Sierra-Delta. As both airlines had always carried out Concorde milestone flights together, such as the first ever schedule flights and first flights to Washington and New York; they wanted, if at all possible, to do it again this time around.

For the past year the airliners had worked closer that ever together to jointly return the aircrafts certification. If were commercially viable, as they were both on the same timescale with the modification programme, they would make the joint re-launch a reality. They discussed possible dates and decided that Wednesday November the 7th 2001 would give them the time to ensure that they would both be ready to go.

If all the conditions they had set down were meet they would announce the date and open up shop for booking in mid October 2001 - around three weeks before the re-launch date. British Airways would operate 6 days a week to New York, while Air France would operate on 5 days, with no services on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

British Airways also planed to take booking for their Saturday only service to the Caribbean holiday destination of Barbados from the same day. These services would run every Saturdays from December to April. The Saturday flights to New York, which they replaced, would commence in mid April

F-BTSD on the completion of the high speed taxi test.
(Martine Tlouzeau)
The engineering teams in France completed the modifications on Sierra-Delta at the beginning of October. The aircraft would now be ready to start his test programme.

On October the 11th F-BTSD rolled out to carry out the high-speed taxi, if this went according to plan Air France would be on-schedule and details of the re-launch could be published.

Flanked by the aiport fire service the aircraft resplendent in the afternoon sunshine, after the recent re-spray, carried out the high speed test in front of a few curious on-looker at Charles de Gaulle airport.

By mid October the media got wind of the Air France re-launch plans and announced that they airline would be restarting services on November 7th.

The following day on October 15th British Airways and Air France officially announced that they would both restart the Concorde services to New York on November 7th, at 10:30am local time, in each country.

Air France would use the re-launch to slightly alter their schedule to offer greater convenience for passengers; with a departure from Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport at 10:30 a.m. (replacing the previous departure at 11 a.m.), and arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport at 8:25 am local time. The early morning arrival would offer passengers numerous connections throughout North and South America, and would help minimises waiting time at customs and immigration during what is a quieter time at JFK.

Jean-Cyril Spinetta
"Concorde's return to service attests to our confidence in the future of Air France and in the future of the aviation industry. Throughout the world, this industry has been severely affected by the tragic events of September 11 and their repercussions," said Jean-Cyril Spinetta, Air France Chairman. "Concorde's return to New York is symbolic of Air France's tribute to the people of this city, to their strength and their strong resolve to rebuild," Spinetta added. "Within our own ranks, we have not forgotten the show of sympathy and support of many New Yorkers in the hours and days following the Concorde accident on July 25, 2000."

New York's Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, welcomed the announcement. He said: "Concorde's return is symbolic of how all New Yorkers feel about rebuilding this great city. I am personally proud to welcome Concorde back to New York."

Rod Eddington
Rod Eddington, British Airways' Chief Executive, said: "We are delighted to be returning Concorde to the skies and back into New York. "

"We hope Concorde's return will play a major part in rebuilding confidence in New York and demonstrating that it is business as usual between the UK and the USA. We have received tremendous support from our regular business customers over the last year and we look forward to carrying them supersonically across the Atlantic once more."

The first flights operated by British Airways would see invited guess and media fly out to New York on a BA001 on November 7th, with a return BA002 flight the following day. On the evening of November 7th, The chairman of the New York Stock Exchange would host a special luncheon at the Stock Exchange for the people that had brought Concorde back to their city, to show how important they felt Concorde was for trade and commerce.

Full British Airways services would commence on Friday November 9th when the BA001 would depart from Heathrow at 10:30am arriving in New York at around 9:15am. The same aircraft would be turned around in New York and depart at 12:15pm, to allow it to arrive back into Heathrow just after 9pm.

The very same day the airlines were announcing that Concorde would be back on November 7th; Captain Edgard Chillaud and his team took Air France Concorde F-BTSD on its subsonic airtest as flight AF382s. The aircraft performed brilliantly and would successfully complete a supersonic airtest 2 days later as AF383s

With the re-launch date announced and bookings doing well the airlines were ready to launch off into their final weeks of testing, training and dress rehearsals that would see Concorde back in New York after an absence of more than 14 months.