The Concorde Redemption
Can the superplane make a comeback?
- By Joseph Harriss
- Air & Space magazine, September 2001
(Page 5 of 5)
The modifications were done by teams of 40 engineers working two eight-hour shifts a day. “It’s work for engineers on a diet,” quips Denis Morris, a project manager in the Concorde division. “First they have to squeeze through these oval access holes in the underside of the wing, then crawl through the inside of the wing all the way out to the end, where there’s only barely enough space to work.”
Although not strictly part of the airplane’s recertification efforts, new tires being developed by Michelin are supposed to mitigate the blowout problem. Radial models banded with an aramid composite similar to Kevlar, they are expected to better resist bursting; if they do blow out, they should break up into smaller pieces less likely to hit the fuel tanks. They are also expected to be about 44 pounds lighter than the previous ones, meaning a total saving of 352 pounds—helping offset the weight increase due to the liners.
Can Concorde come back? “I have always said that Concorde would fly again,” French Transport Minister Gayssot has declared. Media leaks in Paris had Air France laying plans for a resumption of service in September or October. British Airways, which is spending nearly $25 million to modify the Concorde, was poised to proceed faster, assuming the CAA restored the certificate of airworthiness, and was betting a further $20 million worth of refurbishing on the fleet’s cabins, including new lighting that turns blue as Concorde hits Mach 1. (Air France hasn’t released its costs, but has indicated that it has set aside $11 million for costs related to resuming service.) Says Les Dorr, spokeman for the Federal Aviation Administration: “We would accept the certification of the CAA and the DGAC, unless there were some obvious issues that gave us reason to disagree with them or suspect the aircraft was unsafe.”
Should Concorde come back? “If they get the modifications worked out and the certifying authorities are satisfied the plane is safe, then why not?” says Frank Taylor, director of the Aviation Safety Center at Britain’s Cranfield University. “Given the relatively small number of flying hours it puts in and the great amount of maintenance attention it gets, its age should be no problem.”
Former NTSB chief Jim Burnett has some doubts. “I would love to see Concorde fly again,” he says. “But this accident reminds us that if it fails, a plane poses a risk not only to those flying it but also to people on the ground. All of us in aviation safety know the greatest risks are on the runway, during takeoff and landing, and that’s where Concorde has had the most problems.”
When the airplane entered service in 1976, its lifespan was to be 6,700 flights, which would have dictated ending operations around 1993. Since then, structural modifications, changes to inspection and maintenance programs, and other alterations have extended that to around 2010, depending on usage. But Concorde’s comeback is not just a question of technology. Just as there were 30 years ago, intangibles like prestige are at stake. And it’s still a marketing tool in a very competitive arena. As Rod Eddington, British Airways chief executive, says, “It’s one of the few things in this business where one airline enjoys a unique sustainable advantage over another.”