Concorde was a danger for 20 years

CONCORDE was a danger to the public for 20 years before the fatal crash near Paris in 2000, a new report has claimed.

An investigation into the crash, in which 113 people died, has criticised French officials for not monitoring the supersonic jet's safety rigorously enough, a lawyer has said.

Roland Rappaport, who represents the family of one of the pilots, said he had read the report and expected it would lead the French courts to take action against several safety officials. It has not been made public.

He said he expected a French judge would now place officials from DGAC, the country's civil aviation authority, and the aerospace giant EADS, which made the supersonic airliner, under investigation.

The Air France Concorde exploded in flames two minutes after taking off from Charles de Gaulle airport, north of Paris, on 25, July 2000.

All 109 people on board and four on the ground were killed when the aircraft crashed into a hotel in an outer suburb.

The crash shocked the world and ultimately led to Concorde's withdrawal as a passenger aircraft.

However, according to Mr Rappaport, the new report suggests that Concorde's safety problems extend back to the mid-1980s.

He said: "For 20 years, Concorde was a danger to the public, and the accident had to happen some time."

Two investigations following the crash, one by France's accident office and the other ordered by the prosecutors' office, concluded that a titanium "wear strip" that fell from another aircraft on to the runway caused a Concorde tyre to burst, propelling rubber debris that perforated the plane's fuel tanks.

However, the judicial inquiry, which was published in December, also determined that the Concorde's fuel tanks lacked sufficient protection from shock - a risk that had been known since 1979.

It also cited weaknesses in "the training and preparation of the Concorde teams" and insufficient protection of the supersonic jet's tanks.

The report referred to experts pointing to 67 cases of tyre or wheel ruptures, which in 24 cases "provoked one or more impacts on the structure".

It added that in seven of the incidents "the fuel tanks were pierced with one or more holes".

An article in Valeurs Actuelles, a French weekly magazine, said the new, follow-up safety report had explored who was at fault for failing to come up with a system to monitor years of safety incidents leading up to the crash.

It said the report stated: "[The plane's] owners, authorities and builders failed to put into place a system collecting reports on [past] incidents".

The magazine cited a series of incidents, such as one in Washington in June 1979, when the tyres of a Concorde burst during take-off. Fragments perforated the aircraft's wings, causing a leak of kerosene and a fire to break out.

Mr Rappaport said the experts' report, handed over to Christophe Regnard, the investigating judge, had tough words for security officials, the jet's builders and the French civil aviation authority DGAC.

The magazine has reported that Judge Regnard planned to put several officials under investigation next Wednesday - a step short of formal charges.

It said the new report could lead to the judge launching investigations into whether there had been "involuntary homicide".

Claire Hocquet, a colleague of Mr Rappaport, said: "We have all reason to think, we're hoping it in any case, that the judge will announce the placing under investigation."

News of the new report came after a French judge placed Continental Airlines under judicial investigation in March for "involuntary homicide and injuries".

A lawyer for Continental has denied the United States airline bore any responsibility.

The prosecutor's office has contended that Continental broke US Federal Aviation Administration rules by using titanium in a part of the plane that normally required the use of aluminium, which is softer.

Concorde was built by companies that are now partially part of EADS, which owns 80 per cent of the European plane manufacturer Airbus.

A spokeswoman for the company said: "On anything related to judicial enquires, our policy is to refrain from making any comments."

British Airways, which also operated the supersonic aircraft, categorically denied the lawyer's claims about Concorde safety.

A spokeswoman said yesterday: "We would never have operated an aircraft we considered to be in any way unsafe."

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said Concorde had been one of the most closely-monitored aircraft because its supersonic capability made it so complex.

A spokesman said: "The aircraft would not have flown unless it met CAA and European safety requirements.

"Maintenance would have been carried out by airline engineers after every flight to CAA specifications, but there would also have been independent inspections, sometimes as often as weekly."

How the supersonic boom became a bit of a damp squib

IT WAS a supersonic adventure that began 40 years ago and ended with one of the last aircraft being dragged across a Scottish field to its final resting place in the Museum of Flight in East Lothian.

The Concorde programme was inaugurated by Charles de Gaulle, the French president, and Harold Macmillan, the British prime minister, in 1962. However, only Air France and British Airways adopted the 1,350mph aircraft and, rather than the expected hundreds, only 16 were built.

Both fleets were grounded after the Paris crash in 2000, and by the time flights resumed, the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 had caused a major downturn in transatlantic air travel.

Air France ended Concorde services in May 2003, with British Airways following suit five months later.

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