Air France and British Airways have resumed scheduled flights of the Concorde supersonic passenger airliner between Europe and the United States 16 months after one of the jets crashed in Paris, killing 113 people. The Concordes have undergone extensive safety modifications and have been re-certified for passenger service.
The Air France jet took off for New York from Charles de Gaulle airport outside of Paris. French press reports spoke glowingly about the return of the mythic white bird of an aircraft. The flight carried 92 passengers, including the country's transportation minister.
British Airways is sending two Concordes from London to the United States -one carrying invited VIPs and journalists to New York; the other, British Prime Minister Tony Blair to Washington. British's Airways' commercial service will resume Friday.
Both carriers' jets have undergone modifications to avoid a repetition of the July 2000 crash, when an Air France Concorde's tire exploded after hitting a piece of metal. Fragments then ruptured a fuel tank, causing a fire and the crash. Among other things, the Concordes fuel tanks are now lined with a bulletproof material.
The resumption of the supersonic flights has been welcomed by New York city officials, who see it as a vote of confidence in the city after the September 11 terrorist attacks and a boost to commercial ties with Europe.
There were doubts about whether the planes would fly again, since they are 25 years old and carry only a small number of passengers - albeit at a premium price: as much as $5,500 one way.