The Air France Concorde stranded in New York since July flew back to Paris on Thursday, making what could prove to be the supersonic jet's final flight after a disastrous crash of another Concorde that killed 113 people. The sleek, delta-winged jet roared into Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport around 5:45 p.m. (1530 GMT), some 3-1/2 hours after leaving John F. Kennedy International Airport.
A five-strong crew flew the plane home and no passengers were allowed on board for the flight.
Fire crews stood by on the tarmac as the elegant plane touched down and workers watched while "the big white bird" taxied to a hangar in a remote part of the airport complex.
Aviation authorities withdrew Concorde's airworthiness certificate after one of the planes crashed in flames on July 25 just outside Charles de Gaulle airport, killing 113 people.
One of Air France's remaining five needle-nosed planes had been left sitting on the tarmac at JFK airport and the company was eager to bring it back to Paris and put it under cover in a giant hangar which accommodates the company's Concorde fleet.
The French Civil Aviation Authority (DGAC) said on Wednesday it had granted Air France permission to repatriate the aircraft, and all countries whose airspace lay across the flight path -- the United States, Canada, Ireland and Britain -- were swift to allow the one-off voyage.
The right-to-fly certificate was withdrawn after accident investigators announced that a ruptured tyre probably set off a swift, cataclysmic chain of events that led to the July crash.
Air France and British Airways were the only companies to operate the prestigious aircraft and French and British aviation experts are working together to see what measures would be needed to overcome the problem.
Given that the 12 remaining Concordes are ageing and that any modifications to the structure of the aircraft would cost millions of euros (dollars) to implement, many experts believe that the legendary airliner will never resume service.
However, an Air France spokeswoman denied that Thursday's flight was necessarily Concorde's final farewell. "It was just a technical flight," she said.
" Concorde FBVFC who was grounded at JFK since july 25th finally got the
autorisation to return to Paris on september 21st. I think all AF staff on
duty on that day wouldn't have missed the opportunity to escort our
wonderful white bird along the taxiway to his last stand at the maintenance,
the occasion for us to say how much we love him and how much we miss him too.
Some of us were gathered on the ROMEO deicing area which offers a nice wiew on the runway 27 where Concorde was supposed to land. 1527 utc, the familiar shape appeared in final approach, lights on. 1530 utc Concorde landed, perfect and majestic, as usual, and so silent... I have been told, afterwards, a lot of drivers stopped their cars along the A1 highway to watch the Concorde land and occured a great traffic jam ! The weather which was so bright and sunny a couple of hours earlier had turned cloudy and grey. It started to rain, as if the weather wanted to show its sorrow too. Concorde left the runway 27 and started his last goodbye tour. He got the authorisation to make a special farewell loop to terminal 2 before going to the maintenance for a while or for ever...
As we were waving to the crew the copilot opened the cockpit window and responded , waving his hand to our small group, then the emotion turned so strong that the tears started to mix with the rain on our faces. Concorde went on to his rendez-vous in front of the headquater building. We followed him and rejoined him precisely when he stopped for a little while in front of the building to thank hundreds of persons who came out, under the rain, to show him how much they care for him. I couldn't see it but the Captain threw a rose from the cockpit in memory of the 114 victims. Someone had written " Concorde je t'aime" on a banderole. Most of the staff was gathered here, and this was another great moment of emotion.
I had the feeling I was living an historical moment, and Concorde will never fly again and I feel so sad.
Then Concorde left for another dear place : his stand on Alpha 20 ( terminal A ), where all the AF 001 ( then renamed AF 002 ) flights to JFK left from 1982...
It was time now to go to the last stand, on the maintenance. I wanted to escort him but they didn't allowed me. I will never forget our so beautiful white bird, prisonner of firemen and flycos cars , on his way to the cage when he is fit for flying...
NO. This can't be. Concorde will fly again, there are no other planes able to compete with him, he is the greatest, the most beautiful, the most elegant, the fastest, and it is not because they keep him grounded, they broke his wings.
Everybody knows it, and especially at the maintenance "
Martine TLOUZEAU load master at AIR FRANCE