RETURN TO SERVICE - FULL STORY
CHAPTER 9
Re-certified but the World changes

September the 5th started off for the staff at British Airways and Air France as another day on the long road they were on to put Concorde back in revenue service. One big task that had been identified early on was the need to re-market Concorde to the regular customers, those to whom Concorde meant time and time could be bought my money. The regular customers had to be convinced that the aircraft would be back and be even safer than before.

Since the aircraft was grounded and the modification programme started, British Airways had kept in touch with 1500 of their regular Concorde passengers by sending them updates on the progress and informing them on the new safety measures. For 50 VIP customers, BA had gone one step further and had regularly invited them for trips around Heathrow's hangers, hosted by the Flight crews, to show them first hand the work being done to put Concorde back to service.

British Airways re-launched its Concorde marketing campaign and micro-website. A British Airways spokeswoman said the campaign would "focus on rebuilding confidence in Concorde's safety and promoting the Concorde experience."

"We are very fortunate that Concorde markets itself as a brand and an icon and has a worldwide profile," she added. "BA has a reputation for safety and we will seek to build on that and reassure passengers. "

"All the communications for Concorde will stress that safety is paramount," she said.

 
Alpha-Foxtrot in position outside TBA for the marketing push
The final big push was planned for the weekend of the 6,7 and 8th of September. Alpha-Foxtrot and her sister ship Alpha-Delta would be positioned on the British Airways engineering ramp for former customers who flew Concorde, along with their guests to view the safety modifications first hand. A booklet outlining the changes, in both the aircraft and levels of service, was distributed to all who attended.

The airline would also lay on refreshments where the flight crews would be present to explain the new safety initiatives to the customers and answer any question they had. The airline felt it important to make sure that the customers knew that Concorde would indeed be back very soon and they would soon be able to book onto the services that they have used so regularly before.

Mike Bannister receives the call to inform him of the return of the CofA (Discovery Channel)
On the morning of September 5th Captain Mike Bannister, British Airways Flight Manager Technical and Chief Pilot for Concorde, was rushing around between his office in British Airways Compass Centre and the preparations going on at the engineering base for the weekend's important marketing push. Whilst working with a TV crew filming Concorde's return to service programme for the Discovery Channel outside Alpha-Foxtrot at engineering base, he received the call he had been waiting weeks for - the aircraft was to be re-certified, and that a joint announcement would be made by the aviation authorities later in the day:

"It could not happen on a better day, we have been over here (at the engineering base) talking to the people that made it happen" he told the person on the phone who had broken the news to him, "that's really great"

A delighted Bannister told the TV crew what the announcement would mean as he drove back to his office to change into uniform for the media interviews that would now be organised for the afternoon:

"What is being announced today is the intention to return the certificates of airworthiness. At the same time they will announce the package of mandatory modifications that are necessary for the individual aircraft, for their Certificate of Airworthiness to be returned, and of course that package of modifications is the same package of modifications that have been done on Alpha-Foxtrot so that certificate of airworthiness can be restored immediately.....The other ones can be restored technically when the modifications (on the remaining aircraft) are complete."

Shortly after the manufacturers and airlines had been informed that the aircraft was to be re-certified to carry passengers, the DGAC and CAA released official press releases to inform the world that Concorde would indeed be back. They had accepted, to the letter, the package that hade been designed by the manufacturers to prevent an accident, such as the one that occurred at Gonesse, ever happening again.

The authorities formally issued the set of airworthiness directives that once implemented would allow the individual aircraft to have the certification certificates returned.

 
  • The fitment of Kevlar lining to key fuel tanks - this will reduce the flow of fuel from any leak which may occur, which together with the removal of electrical ignition sources will make sustained fire impossible.

 

  • The use of the new Michelin Near Zero Growth (NZG) tyres on all eight main wheels - these tyres are designed to be more resilient to damage by foreign objects and only in extreme cases can smaller, lighter tread pieces be released, giving a much lower level of energy on impact than that which occurred at Gonesse.

 

  • The armouring of electrical wiring in the undercarriage bay - the investigators believe that the fire may have been ignited by an electrical spark in the undercarriage bay, and that protecting this area eliminates that risk.

 

  • The water deflector retention cable must (if fitted) be removed and there is a slight reprofiling of the deflector to accommodate the new tyre.

 

  • The antiskid protocols are changed. This is necessary because of the tyre change. (The anti-skid system is common to most airliners. If an aircraft is about to skid it automatically releases the brakes, for a short time, to prevent a skid developing.)

 

  • The flat tyre detection and warning system must be working on departure.

 

  • The electrical power to the brake cooling fans is switched off before take off and landing.



This was the package of modifications and changes to standard operational procedures that had been tested on Concorde Alpha Foxtrot. From today the very last Concorde ever to roll off the production line, British Airways' G-BOAF, could have its CofA returned and carry passengers. Other aircraft would have their certificate returned by the authorities after their modifications were complete.

Commenting on the announcement the CAA's Head of Design and Production Standards, Mike Bell, said: "Today's decision is the culmination of a concerted effort by the manufacturer and operators to tackle the issues raised by last year's tragic accident, and to return Concorde to service."

"As an independent specialist regulator, the CAA has monitored all the work and the modifications very closely and is now satisfied that the changes will prevent any future catastrophic accident such as occurred at Paris."

The CAA said that the accident investigators expected no further significant findings from the Paris accident, which would have a bearing on these modifications. On this basis both the CAA and their French counterpart the DGAC took the decision to allow the aircraft to return to service prior to the publication of the final accident report.

Later on in the afternoon the media assembled in front of newly re-certified Alpha-Foxtrot to be briefed by Bannister and his team on the return of the CofA and the forthcoming plans. :

"We are delighted by today's announcement. After months of hard work by the manufacturers and our engineering teams, it is exciting to be one step closer to getting Concorde back into the air."

Senior Management from both airlines were also exceptionally happy with the news. Mike Street, Director of Customer Service and Operations at British Airways, said: "It is a tremendous tribute to everyone who has worked extremely hard on both sides of the Channel since last year. "

"British Airways has always said that we would only resume Concorde services once we were convinced we could do so safely. The package of safety measures developed by the manufacturers and agreed today by the regulators enables us to achieve this. "

"Our Concorde customers are keen to get back on board and we are very much looking forward to carrying them again soon."

F-BVFB at Vatry Airport during crew traning (Bernard Charles)

On the other side of the channel Air France was "very pleased with the decision of the French Civil Aviation Authorities to reinstate Concorde's airworthiness certificate"

Concorde F-BVFB had recently completed a series of verification flights after being fitted with the liners and became the first Air France aircraft to be re-certified. Air France planned to continue to train crews, in order to resume commercial service between Paris and New York in November.

Although the media was not being told, in case there were any unforeseen circumstances, the airlines wanted to re-launch services at the same time, as a tribute to the way they had worked together, to get to where they were today with the certification being returned. Once both airlines knew they would be in a position to operate daily services the re-launch date would be announced.

It was also important for the airlines to operate test flights with passengers on board, or as they were officially called 'Operational Assessment flights'. British Airways planned to operate five flights in the re-certified fleet, and Air France two. On the British Airways flights, staff would be given the chance to fly on the aircraft for free, and aid in the process of putting her back in revenue service.

Captain Bannister is interviewed for televsion news (Discovery Channel)
Mike Bannister briefed the UK media the very same afternoon on the return of the CofA and the forthcoming plans: British Airwasy planned five flights, where the aircraft would be operated as close to the procedures that it would be carried out for a BA001 morning departure to New York. The aircraft would be fuelled, loaded with luggage and boarded with up to 100 airline staff, who would be treated the same way as fare paying passengers would be on a scheduled flight. This would also give the airline a chance to gauge reaction to the new interiors and menu being offered. If available, a second standby aircraft would also be made available at Heathrow's terminal 4, as it would at 10am every day when services restarted.

Three of the flights would head out from Heathrow and fly a large loop out over the Atlantic, before heading back to Heathrow. During this time the cabin crew would serve a full meal and drinks service, similar to what they would do on the BA001 flight. The remaining 2 flights would be an outbound and return service, which would fly all the way to New York on the same day. This would fully simulate the return to service timetable, as well as providing the staff in New York a chance to rehearse their ground procedures. Air France, along with their crew training flights would fly a 'dress rehearsal' flight to New York.

The Group Picture from one of the VIP sessions heald at Heathrow (BA / Shawn Gunning)
With good news of the re-certification made public the weekend PR push went like a dream, with a large number of VIP guest and their families being shows around Alpha Foxtrot. The guest were given the chance to chat to the Crew and engineering staff that made it all possible. Each group sampled the new Concorde cuisine, while watching video on the changes made to Concorde to get her back into servcie.

At the end of the day BA organised a group photograph to be taken, with the VIPs and staff. This would later be mailed out to the VIPs in the post, along with various other material, so they would now that Concorde was soon to be back and that booking would be able to be made.

With Alpha Foxtrot re-certified to carry passengers British Airway scheduled the first operation assessment flight for the following week after the aircraft had completed its marketing duties over the previous weekend. BA announced that the first flight with passengers on board, since August 2000, would take place on Tuesday September 11th 2001.

On September 11th, only G-BOAF had been modified, so she was allocated flight number BA9010C to kick off the final part of the return to service programme. Everything had to be as it would be for a normal schedule flight, even to the extent of re-testing the check-in procedures where the BA staff were told to act as normal commercial passengers

All the passengers moved through to the refurbished Concorde lounge, where they were meet with all the trimmings including drinks and snacks. Also on hand was Head of BA Technical Services, Colin Matthews, to thank the staff, who were all involved with Concorde at BA, for all their hard work in getting Concorde back to where it was today.

"Passengers" on board Concorde for the first time in 13 months (BA / Discovery)
Concorde Alpha-Foxtrot was sitting outside the newly re-designed Concorde lounge on its usual stand, V14, the very same one that it had returned to 13 months earlier after its CofA had been withdrawn.

As the 10:30 departure time drew near the passengers boarded the aircraft that would be captained by Andy Barnwell. BA's Chief Concorde pilot, Mike Bannister would fly as Co-pilot as part of the retraining programme.

After a short taxi, the aircraft roared off into the sky from Heathrow's runway 27L and took the usual route over South-West England in into the Bristol Channel where she could accelerate through to her cruising speed of Mach2. Within 10 minutes of full power being re-applied Alpha-Foxtrot was at 46000ft and Mach 1.6, by the time the aircraft was at 49,000ft she had reached Mach2.

The aircraft's flight plan allowed for a flight time of around 3 hours; plenty of time for a full first class meal and champange drinks service from the all new Concorde menu, and still allow time to relax in the new cradle action seat while listening to the onboard CD entertainment system.

G-BOAF arrives back on Heathrow's runway 27L
After around an hour and a half the aircraft flew a 50 mile,180 degree turn to start back to Heathrow, although it was a quiet day and there was no holding delays (unusual for Heathrow!) the flight crew asked to do a 'once round' the Oakham hold, before vectoring for landing back on Runway 27L at Heathrow just after 2pm.

The aircraft taxied back to stand V14 where the happy passengers, for many their first flight on Concorde, disembarked into terminal 4, only to be greeted with the terrible news of what was going on in New York - two 767s had struck the World Trade Center towers. The Twin Towers were burning heavily and two further hijacked aircraft were still in the air.

 

Later on in the day the euphoria that surrounded Concorde's first passenger flight for 13 months had been forgotten as the full extent and horror of what had happened in the United States started to sink in. The Airline industry would be changed forever as well as the aircraft's main destination - New York.

Concorde's biggest customer base was for the business passengers working in New York and London, but half of this market had been near enough decimated by the acts of terror on September 11th. Just as it seemed that the aircraft was set to be back flying schedule services, another big question mark was placed over her yet again. Would there still be a market for Concorde to serve and more importantly would people still want to fly?