Air France Concorde flies from Paris to New York on final training flight

Monday, October 29th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PARIS (AP) _ An Air France Concorde flew from Paris to New York on Monday for the first time since last year's deadly crash, staging what the carrier said was a dress rehearsal for the plane's return to full service next week.

The supersonic jet _ carrying 65 passengers, all Air France employees _ left Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport under foggy skies at 10:45 a.m. local time and arrived on schedule, 3 hours and 55 minutes later at New York's John F. Kennedy airport.

``It was a very smooth flight,'' said Air France spokeswoman Marina Tymen.

The flight came one week after British Airways operated its first trans-Atlantic test flight, from London to New York _ and 14 months after the July 25, 2000, crash outside Paris that killed 113 people.

Both British Airways and Air France, the only airlines to offer Concorde service, grounded their fleets after the crash. The jet has been revamped to address safety concerns, and civil aviation authorities in both countries cleared its return to the skies last month.

For flight attendants, pilots and check-in staff, Monday's training flight served as a ``final dress rehearsal'' before Air France resumes commercial flights on Nov. 7, Tymen said.

As part of the dry run, the passengers checked in like paying customers and were treated to some of the luxury airliner's standard fare: champagne and foie gras, lobster and petits fours.

The plane was scheduled to return to France on Tuesday.

British Airways will run a preview flight for corporate customers and reporters on Nov. 7 and resume its regular commercial service two days later.

Concorde pilots and engineers have regularly undergone simulated-flight training sessions to retain the skills of flying at twice the speed of sound.

Investigators studying last year's crash say a stray strip of metal on the runway punctured one of the jet's tires, propelling bits of rubber into the fuel tank and starting a fire.

Aviation experts redesigned parts of the plane to prevent a repeat of the accident. The jets have been refitted with new radial tires that would burst into lighter, more flexible fragments if a blowout occurred. Wiring of the plane's undercarriage has been reinforced and new bulletproof fuel liners have been installed to prevent leaks if the plane's wing is ruptured.

Air France is offering promotional fares for the Concorde, with the cheapest roundtrip priced at $5,900. Companions of a full-fare traveler can fly for half-price.