RETURN TO SERVICE - FULL STORY
CHAPTER 11
Final preparations and Rehearsals

Both Air France and British Airways wanted to each have three available aircraft before they would restart services. As both their Concorde fleets had not been flying regularly for over a year, there could be unforeseen problems that would require unscheduled maintenance, as well as allowing them to undertake the regular schedule maintenance programmes, on one aircraft while 2 were flying revenue services. Having 3 aircraft would prevent them from having to cancel services.

G-BOAG taxies before departing on her first airtest
British Airways were first to get their 3rd aircraft back in the air. G-BOAG had been modified in Tech Block A's west pen hanger, in a temporary docking access structure that had been hired, to enable two aircraft to be worked on at the same time. Captain Les Brodie was again given the job of taking Alpha-Golf out on her first airtest; a flight that would follow the same route that he had followed less than a month earlier on Alpha-Echo, out to 30W over the Atlantic before heading back to Heathrow

The aircraft departed from Runway 09R at London Heathrow on October 19th 2001, for a flight that would last more that 3 hours, during which the flight crew and BA engineers on board could ring out all the aircraft's systems. Alpha Golf landed back on runway 09R just before 2pm. During the test flights BA Concordes had been restricted to using Heathrow's south runway (09R/27L). This was due to the airport operator re-surfacing the north runway. Where the old and new surfaces meet there was a small change in level, that was bridged by 'ramps'. As Concorde takes off and lands at higher speeds, these ramps would cause unnecessary stress on the aircraft, so the Airport operator (BAA) allowed the concession for Concorde to use the southern runway no matter what runway alternation pattern was in use.

The important step to the resumption of flights was for both airlines to carry out a 'dress rehearsal' flight all the way to New York and back. A British Airways spokesperson said: "The purpose of the flight is to check all flight and ground procedures for a normal passenger departure," "British Airways hope to carry this flight out in the second last week in October with Air France carrying out a similar flight the following week."

The airlines felt that the flights were necessary as their ground crews at New York had not turned around an aircraft for well over a year and this would provide a valuable training exercise for them. It would also give the airline management a chance to thank the staff who had done the hard graft inside the fuel tanks fitting the tank liners. They would be the guests of honour on the day trip of a lifetime.

G-BOAF leaves Heathrow in a cloud of water vaport beng generated by the pressure from her wings (Reuters)
The BA flight was scheduled for Monday October 22nd 2001. As with the previous two operational assessment flights the BA staff checked in as normal passengers, before boarding Alpha-Foxtrot for the flight to New York.

The Airline had hoped to fly the service with G-BOAE, but a last minute problem with, of all things, a galley oven caused a late aircraft switch. This small problem allowed the Heathrow ground crew a chance to rehearse the procedures for swapping to the back up aircraft.

After small delay, due to fog, Alpha-Foxtrot blasted out of Heathrow in front of a large crowd that had gathered after hearing about the flight in the news media. With runway resurfacing complete on the North runway, Concorde was able to fit in with the rest of Heathrow's traffic and departed from Runway 27R. At the controls for the flight, BA9093C, was the Captain who flew the last flight out of New York - Captain Les Brodie.

Captain Les Brodie in the cockpit during flight BA9093C (Discovery Channel)
" I've always believed it would fly again, there had been times when the task got harder, but we never gave up, ever." Captain Brodie said just before the flight.

Less that three and half hours later, at 9:36am, the aircraft was on the stand in New York. With Concorde not having been seen at John F Kennedy International since August 2000, a large welcoming committee was there to greet the aircraft. On the flight deck, the crew described it as "an emotional moment" as Alpha-Foxtrot taxied on to stand with "some unbelievable looks" from everyone who had turned out to see Concorde once again in New York.

"There's great interest by New Yorkers in the return of Concorde. They really want to welcome the plane back," said a BA spokesman.

Engineering crews inspect the new NZG tyres in New York (Reuters)
Ground crews sprung into action to turn the aircraft around for its lunchtime departure back to London. The 92 passengers on-board had been given a chance to sample the local New York hospitality and meet up with colleagues, before re-boarding the aircraft for the 12:15 departure. Many of the local ground crews were particularly interested to see the new Michelin NZG tyres which had been fitted to the aircraft since its last visit. One of their regular tasks would be to change a tyre that shows any signs of wear or tear after a flight.

The return flight, BA 9094C was airborne at 12:46 and made great time back to London arriving only three and a quarter hours later at 20:55, nearly 30 minutes ahead of schedule.

British Airways were now confident that they could operate their new revised schedule, and that everything was in place in London and New York to support the resumption of services on November 7th.

In Paris, Air France were ready to airtest F-BVFC, their 3rd aircraft to have the package of modifications fitted and have its CofA returned. Fox-Charlie, the aircraft that had originally been marooned in New York, following the accident in July 2000, successfully carried out a mainly subsonic airtest on October 26th.

F-BVFB departs from Paris on the way to New York
A few days later on Monday 29th October Air France were ready to replicate the flight British Airways had made a week earlier and fly Concorde to New York, for the first time since F-BTSC set out unsuccessfully for the destination on July 25th 2000.

Flight AF4500, which was captained by the commander of the Concorde fleet at Air France, Edgard Chillaud, took off from Paris Charles De Gaulle airport at 10:30.

 

AF4500 on short finals into New York, JFK (Reuters)

65 passengers were on-board Concorde 207, F-BVFB. Similar to the BA flight, the engineering staff who had worked in returning the aircraft to commercial service were given the opportunity to fly onboard the aircraft. Along with Captain Chillaud on the cockpit were co-pilot Robert Vacchiani and Flight engineer Roger Beral. This was the crew that the airline had chosen to fly the re-launch flight on November 7th.

Fox Bravo landed at New York's John F. Kennedy airport on time at 8:25 a.m. "It was a very smooth, uneventful flight," said Air France spokeswoman Marina Tymen.

The new Air France Concorde schedule, which would be followed for this rehearsal, would see the aircraft 'overnight' at JFK before departing at 8am to fly back to Paris the following day on the return leg as AF4501. On arrival back in Paris, Air France announced that it too was ready to restart Concorde services on its new five-day-a-week schedule from November the 7th.

With less that a week to go before the planned return to service, British Airways decided to leave no stone unturned, and announced that 2 further flights would take place before they resumed services. These flights would be key to ensuring complete reliability, for what would be Concorde's biggest and most important day since it originally arrived in New York in 1977.

Alpha-Golf completing her second airtest arrives back into Heathrow
British Airways decided that Alpha-Golf would carry out a second airtest on November 1st, to clear up a few minor issues that had arisen after the first airtest on October 22nd, including a

final test of the aircraft's air conditioning system that had proved problematic in Gandar in the week before the fleet was grounded. The following day Alpha-Echo would operate the 5th and final operational assessment flight in and out of Heathrow.

As well as ensuring the fleet were in tip top condition, these flights would also aid in the on going re-training process for the flight crews. The final flights would provide additional 'live' practice for the ground staff and engineers who would depart the aircraft the following week, along with giving the cabin crews and check in staff an opportunity to fine tune their services levels, as these are the important link between the airline and the customers.

G-BOAG taxies back to the engineering base. The gear doors are still open after the test.
Alpha-Golf under the command of Mike Bannister, flight manager technical for the fleet, departed on a three and three quarter hour test flight from Heathrow's Terminal 4 shortly after 11am. During the flight the aircraft headed out on Concorde's normal supersonic track (SM) to 30West before heading back on Track SN to Heathrow for landing at 15:30.

As part of the on going CAA certification process of the aircraft, certain back up and emergency systems need to be exercised at set intervals that can't, for operational reasons, be done during regular flights.

On this flight the aircraft's landing gear was deployed using the standby system, under the control of the back-up yellow hydraulics, a technique that would be used should a main hydraulics system failure ever occur. The ram air turbine was also deployed for test.

G-BOAE departs Heathrow, to wrap up the operational assessment flight programme
BA's final flight, before the resumption of commercial services would be the long planned final operational assessment flight. Captains Bates and Bailie were up front as G-BOAE departed from Heathrow at 10:40 on November 2nd. If the flight went well this aircraft would be the front-runner to fly the prestigious BA001 re-launch service in 5 days time. As with the previous operational assessment flights and airtests, the aircraft headed halfway out to New York before turning back to Heathrow. The aircraft was back on stand just after 2pm, to wrap up the airlines test flying programme

Soon after Alpha Echo had completed the modifications programme in the BA majors dock, in mid September, the airline rolled in G-BOAD to start her refit. British Airways had planed to re-fit the aircraft two at a time, but cost savings had to be made in the airline after September 11th, when cash flows across the industry were in decline. Although the airline was confident that Concorde would be a success, with many flight already sold out, savings had to be made across all areas.

It was decided that a major cost saving could be made by only modifying the remaining four aircraft one at a time. The downside of this would be that it would take more than double the time for the airline to have 5 aircraft available, which would allow them theoretically to restart the BA003 and BA004 evening Concorde services. The additional time however, would allow the airline the opportunity to re-evaluate the need for these services with the depressed market on the transatlantic routes.

With the modifications taking much longer than many had originally thought they would take at the start of 2001, it became clear that by the time the next two aircraft, Alpha-Delta and Alpha-Charlie were back in service, the first 3 aircraft to be modified would be coming up on schedule intermediate maintenance checks, and that these checks would possibly have to be completed before work could begin on G-BOAB and G-BOAA

Since the start of the year the airlines had notched up more that 50 flights to get Concorde back in service. Between the test flights at Istres, the important verification flights, air tests, training flights and operation assessment flight there was no more testing that could be done - Concorde was ready to fly and the passengers were queuing up.