RETURN TO SERVICE - FULL STORY
CHAPTER 8
A long way still to go
G-BOAF taxies to base at the end of the verification programme
With the verification flights complete there was much work to be done to convince the aviation authorities that the package of measures being fitted to the aircraft would prevent an accident, similar to the one that happened in Paris in July 2000, ever happening again.

As well as presenting their findings to the authorities the airlines also had an uphill task to prepare enough aircraft to the modified standard, which would allow them to restart a robust and reliable commercial service. They also had to work out a plan to retrain their flight crews, from whom the majority had not flown the aircraft for over a year.

British Airways had also entered into the challenge of upgrading the cabin interiors to the new design that would last them to the end of the aircraft's life.

Shortly after the verification flight had been completed the manufactures presented their initial findings to the 8th meeting of the Concorde working group. The Concorde working group, which included senior government transport officials and civil aviation authorities, said the plane's makers hoped to submit the results of tests on the modified aircraft (G-BOAF) to regulators by August 15th, when they would officially re-apply for its certificate of airworthiness.

"British Airways plans to resume commercial Concorde flights between London and New York in September" Air France plans to follow suit one month later with its first transatlantic service" the working group said in a statement.

Although a BA spokeswoman was more cautious, telling the Reuters Press agency that the company had no more exact date than "late summer". "We don't want to be putting an exact time-scale on things when we've still got some factors to work through," she said.

Alpha Echo in East pen at the start of the modification programme
With the confidence that the authorities would accept the modification package, British Airways and Air France moved up a gear and started modifications on two aircraft at a time. In London additional aircraft access platforms or docking was hired to allow work to get underway on G-BOAG in Tech Block A's 'west pen' at Heathrow, as well as G-BOAE which had moved into the permanent Concorde majors dock in 'east pen' after the completion of Alpha-Foxtrot's modifications.

British Airways went through its engineering staff to find those small enough to fit into the enclosed spaces inside the fuel tanks, to allow them to modify the aircraft as quickly as possible. The plan called for 2 aircraft to be modified at the same time with G-BOAD and G-BOAC following when Alpha Echo and Golf were complete in September 2001. Early in 2003 work was planned to get underway on the final 2 aircraft - G-BOAB and G-BOAA.

An Air France engneer fits the liners inside one of their Concordes
Air France, without the BA policy of having a standby aircraft available for their services, were not in as big a rush to complete their modifications but expected to have F-BVFB and F-BTSD ready for early October to allow a resumption of services with F-BFVC following shortly afterwards.

With Alpha Foxtrot modified to the required technical standard work could being in Phase one of BA's cabin upgrade. Phase one involved replacement of the seating with new specially design ergonomic and lighter aircraft seats and new carpeting. Phase two was planned to follow in 2003 where the galleys, toilets and cabin lighting would also be upgraded, after the engineering staff had completed the modification work.

Once phase one of the cabin upgrade was complete in early August 2001, British Airways announced that they would shortly head off for a 2-day training session at Shannon airport in Ireland.

The British Airways Concorde Simulator (BAE systems)

When the Concorde return to service programme came into effect, the crews who had mainly been seconded to other fleets, were brought back to the Concorde fleet to work on the simulator in Bristol. The Concorde simulator, although having been built in the 1970's, is thought of as a very accurate simulator, but is not regarded as a zero flight time simulator that many modern simulators are understood to be in terms of the certification authorities.

A crew training to convert to Concorde would always have to take part in base training after their simulator conversion course unlike a crew who would be moving from a Boeing 737 to a Boeing 777.

A crew practice in the BA Concorde Simulator (Discovery Channel)
Never before had Concorde crews never had the ability to keep recent by flying the aircraft. After discussions with the CAA and the British Airways Safety Board a programme was put in place that would see the Concorde simulator regarded as 'near zero flight time' simulator. To back this up the captains would, after their simulators check rides, fly 6 touch and go landings to confirm that the simulator had done its job.

The programme included 5 days of ground school lectures and 7 simulator drills covering normal, abnormal and emergency operations. Once this had been completed and each crew member successfully passing the usual competency checks they would be released to fly base training.

The remaining crews, if the results of the base training proved the thesis of how good the simulator was to be true, would then be allowed after a similar ground based training programme go on to train on the line during the schedule flights and up comings test flights.

In addition to the base training flights, the transit flights to and from Shannon would also be used as supersonic training flights during which the crews would carry out all the procedures that they would used during a flight to New York, but without the 2-&-a bit hours of Mach 2 cruise.

G-BOAF traning at Shannon (Brian Gavin )
On August the 7th 2001, Alpha Foxtrot departed from Heathrow as BA9185p for 70-minute flight to Shannon. After a sporty lightweight takeoff from Heathrow the aircraft accelerated through to Mach 2 on its usual route to New York before turning around for the 100 mile trip back to Shannon. G-BOAF landed just after midday in Ireland, to a reception party of the majority of the local media, at the start of a two-day training sortie that would see more than 35 landings being accomplished.

At Shannon 4 separate flying sessions were completed (two on each day) that allowed a minimum of 8 touch and go landings to be completed by various members of BA's Concorde crews during each session.

2 or 3 pilots that were to be re-qualified were present on each flight and had to each complete 3 take off and landings. The circuit that is flown around Shannon Airport takes about 6 minutes and uses around 2 tonnes of fuel for each circuit. Each training detail would last for around 1 hour and 20mins, plenty of time for the local enthusiasts to get their pictures!

Another session would be planned for later in the month to complete the base training portions of the crews re-rating programme. Concorde headed back to Heathrow as BA9179p the following day.

Another big step on the way to restarting services would be to re-market Concorde to the regular customers, who make up the majority of the passengers on the scheduled New York services.

G-BOAF in the BA paint shop - Tech Block K
With no further flight training scheduled till later in the month, but a big marketing pushing coming up very soon, British Airways decided that it was time to give G-BOAF a 'Richard and Judy style makeover', commonly known as a paintjob. In 1997 Alpha Foxtrot was the first aircraft to be given the new BA corporate look and in places, after the work that had been done, was in need of a touch up.

On 12th of August Alpha-Foxtrot was rolled into the paint shop in Heathrow's Tech Block K for the week long re-spray that would ensure she look her best for the special on show days for the Concorde VIP passengers, that would take place in early September.

After nearly a month of work by the manufacturers they were ready to present their case for the return of the airworthiness certification to the aviation authorities on both sides of the Channel. A dossier containing information on the package of modification that would be fitted to the fleet along with detailed findings of the various ground and flight tests were presented jointly to the CAA in the UK and the DGAC in France.

The CAA spokesman confirming that they had received the documentation said the aviation bodies would give a "common reply". He refused to say how long that might be:

"It will take as long as it takes and obviously we will do it in conjunction with the DGAC as well."

"If the authorities are satisfied with what is being done, they will issue airworthiness directives that must be carried out on each aircraft before it can again carry passengers."

These directives were the package of measures that had already been carried out on G-BOAF, and that the airlines were the process of putting in place fleet wide.

Alpha Foxtrot arrives back from Shannon
As soon as the Certifications are returned, British Airways planned to operate a series of operational assessment or dress rehearsal flights with BA staff as passengers, but with no certificate of airworthiness the airlines used the time to undertake more training with Alpha Foxtrot at Shannon.

On August 22nd 2001, G-BOAF set off for Shannon as BA9173p for a days base training to re-rate further Concorde pilots for the imminent restart of passenger services. Two sets of touch and go circuits were completed. The first consisted of 9 landings while the 2nd had 8 landings. The aircraft returned the same evening to Heathrow as BA9175p, the positioning legs were again used for training and proved valuable for the flight engineers - one of their main tasks is trimming out the aircraft, using a method of fuel transfer, as the aircraft accelerates up to Mach 2.

The following day it was the turn of Air France to move into the limelight with their first modified aircraft starting ground and flight tests. Air France would traditionally follow a different flight-testing pattern to that which British Airways use. The initial test is a high-speed taxi test where the aircraft nears the V1 speed. This taxi test is followed by a subsonic airtest and finally a 3hour long supersonic airtest.

F-BVFB after her high speed day test (Martine Tlouzeau)

F-BVFB had completed his modification programme at the start of August, and after a set of static ground tests, carried out the high-speed taxi test on the 23rd of August at Charles De Gaulle. Air France had selected the crew of Edgar CHILLAUD, Jean Francois MICHEL, Yannick PLUCHON and Alain PICCININI to perform the 2 air tests.

With no major issues arising from the taxi test, Fox-Bravo departed from the Paris airport shortly after 10am for a 3 hours flight that would test the aircraft's systems, during what would be a mainly subsonic test flight.

Air France were fortunate in that both their first two aircraft to be modified had flown during test sessions at Istres, making life a little bit easier for the French engineers , unlike in the UK where the BA fleet had been on the ground for many more months.

Like British Airways, Air France wanted to restart crew training as soon as possible, as their crew had been on the ground for longer due to their services ceasing on the day of the accident. They planned that if the final supersonic airtest was successful, they would travel to Vatry airport to the East of Paris at the end of August to kick-off their extensive re-training programme.

Fox-Bravo as AF373S returns to Paris (Bernard Charles)
Air France scheduled F-BFVB's final supersonic airtest for August 27th. The flight, AF373S, departed from Paris' CDG airport at 10:15am and returned at 13:40. During the flight the aircraft flew at speeds of up to Mach 2.0 in a standard loop across Atlantic Ocean.

The flight did not simulate an emergency descent nor make a landing using just three engines, as initially had been planned to further demonstrate the effectiveness of the aircraft and its modifications. An Air France spokesman said: "The simulations were dropped after the crew were told that civil aviation authorities did not consider the exercises a condition for allowing Concorde to fly again."

"The two exercises were not necessary," the spokesman told the Reuters news agency. "They preferred to concentrate their attention on a test that would resemble a normal flight."

The Airlines, after their last working group meeting, had expected the Certificate of Airworthiness to be returned towards the end of August, but to most it appeared that the aviation authorities were dragging their heals over the process. As the end of August approached the Civil Aviation Authority announced a slight delay in granting permission for Concorde to fly again but said it was not a "big hiccup".

Concordes manufacturer, represented by Airbus, had simply been asked to supply more details of the modification work carried out to prevent a repetition of the Air France Concorde accident.

The CAA said that it was dealing with a "matter of safety" and had to be satisfied that the "modifications were satisfactory." It had asked for more background data, but the information had been received only at the end of last week. Miss-information from a statement after the last working group meeting had at the time angered the CAA, as the authorities had never put a timescale on how long the re-certification process would take once that had all the information.

The CAA did say that they would not see any lengthy hold-up before it can issue a certificate to the first of BA's seven Concordes. They even hoped that this could be as soon as the following week if everything was in place.

British Airways responded that: "The issuing of an airworthiness directive is entirely a matter for the regulators. "

"We were encouraged by the progress made at last week's meeting of the inter-governmental working group, and we are continuing modification work on our second and third Concordes."

In reality the short delay make no difference to British Airways, apart from delaying the start of their operational assessment flights. The airline would not have been in a position, for at least another 6 weeks, to restart commercial services as the second and third aircraft they would be required to operated the daily New York services, had not yet completed their modification an flight testing programme.

Large rowds look on, as F-BVFB taxies during the Vatry training session. (Bernard Charles)
In Paris it was now Air France's turn to get their crew training underway. After the successful airtest flights with Fox Bravo a few days earlier, the airline scheduled a day trip to Vatry airport, to the East of Paris. Air France, in a similar fashion to British Airways, would re-train their crew on landing and take off procedures, that up until now had only been practiced in the ground based Paris simularor. Flight AF119K departed from CDG mid morning on August 30th and returned after the completion of the training sessions later that same day.

At Vatry hundreds of locals came to the small, newly constructed, airport to witness another important step in the aircraft programme to return to passenger service. During the day F-BVFB completed two sets of 8 touch and go circuits.
French Transport minister Jean Claude Gayssot arrives at Vatry airport during a training session (Reuters)

French Transport minister Jean Claude Gayssot, visited Vatry airport to show his support for Concorde during the build up to the airline putting the aircraft back in service.

France's next set of training flights were a bit more adventurous; On September 4th the airlines scheduled two 90min training flights in and out of CDG. Different crew combinations would take the aircraft on a supersonic training flight that would allow them to rehearse all the procedures that they would use during a scheduled flight.

During the first flight (AF374S) Captain Jean Rossignol was in the commander's seat with Captain Jean-Francois Michel as co-pilot. During the second flight (AF375S) they swapped over roles. Similarly Roger Beral flew as Flight Engineer for the first flight, supported by his colleague Alain Piccinini. The flight engineers reversed roles during the second flight

Two days later Fox bravo flew in and out of CDG as AF115K on a flight path that would take the aircraft out to 30W over the Atlantic Ocean before heading back to Paris. This was designed as a full dress rehearsal flight and lasted three and a half hours, a similar length of time to what a schedule Paris-New York flight would take.

At the start of September 2001 Air France and British Airways were well on their way to putting Concorde back in service: their crew training was well underway and their second and third modified aircraft were not far from flying.

All they needed now was the return of the Certificate of Airworthiness, so they could finally carry passengers, but one unprecedented event was just around the corner that could put all their work and planning on the scrapheap - September 11th 2001.