DAVID LEARMOUNT / LONDON & CHRISTINA MACKENZIE / PARIS
Forced diversion to Halifax appears to have hastened French and UK decision to withdraw supersonic aircraft
A severe in-flight fuel feed leak appears to have started the chain reaction that prompted the decision by Air France and British Airways to bring scheduled Concorde operations to a permanent end. The leak forced the Air France Concorde to divert to Halifax, Canada, on 19 February.
A review of costs and the fact that technical reliability has always been crucial in a service that promises exceptional time savings to business travellers hastened decisions that were already under consideration, says BA.
Engineering sources close to Air France say the February diversion incident was a key factor in the French carrier's decision to stop operating Concorde as soon as it could, although the airline officially denies this.
Soon after the diversion, however, BA says the airlines had a "three-way" discussion with Airbus to quantify increasing maintenance and engineering costs. Air France's decision to stop operations affects BA directly because of the adverse effect on economies of scale in engineering support costs. The UK carrier says the three-way meeting tipped the balance in its decision-making process (Flight International, 15-21 April).
Air France announced it would stop operating scheduled services on 31 May and BA said it would follow suit on 30 September. Both say however that non-scheduled flights may continue until November.
French civil aviation authority DGAC confirms that the reason for the diversion during the New York Kennedy-Paris flight was "excessive fuel loss" because of a crack in a fuel line feeding the No 3 engine. Sources report that 16t of fuel was lost quickly, forcing immediate diversion to the nearest airport. Shutting down the high- and low-pressure fuel cocks for the No 3 engine stopped the fuel leak, and the aircraft landed safely at Halifax.
The DGAC says the fault was the first of its type to have occurred. Engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce says it has received the powerplant for examination, and indications are "that this was a one-off event that is unlikely to recur". The airline confirms that the problem was a fuel leak, and the DGAC says it was not serious enough to warrant its further action.
Air France claims the incident "had nothing whatsoever" to do with the decision to stop operating the aircraft, which was based on "exorbitant operating costs". The airline points out Concorde has suffered "far fewer" incidents since restarting operations than it did before being grounded, "but every small incident causes media interest, whereas it never used to".
Air France sources indicate that the cost of fitting its four operational Concordes with terrain awareness warning systems and other near-term mandatory upgrades would be $40 million -far more than fitting them in a modern aircraft.
Source: Flight International