I asked my colleague James Ott to summarize his thoughts on Monday's Concorde verdict in a French court, as well as his recollection of events at the time that led to the eventual demise of Concorde. He didn't mince his words:
"A pilot who occupied a passenger seat in an Air France Concorde taking off at Washington Dulles Airport phoned Aviation Week to talk about a tire blow out on take off. That was more than three decades ago in June, 1979.
The magazine report was straightforward as is typical: “Air France Concorde en route to Paris from Washington’s Dulles Airport on June14 blew two tires on takeoff, accompanied by a leak in the left wing fuel system. Following the return to Dulles the aircraft was foamed by fire and rescue units. There were no injuries.”
Truly this was a message with portent.
Tire blow outs and leaks in the fuel system happened again and again. The French accident bureau BEA, in a report after the July 25, 2000, accident that brought down Air France Flight 4590 after taking off from Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, counted 57 confirmed cases of tire bursts or deflation on Concorde. Of these incidents, 12 had an impact on wing structure and six penetrated fuel tanks. Half of the 22 tire failures on take off were caused by foreign objects on the runway.
Actually the frequency of tire problems declined as hardware and procedures were implemented. British Airways refrained from using retread tires from 1991, Air France from 1996. Wheels and tires were strengthened under advisories, among other steps.
Still, Flight 4590 went down. Now the French court has blamed Continental Airlines and one of its mechanics for the accident some 10 years after the tragedy. The BEA said one of the Concorde tires struck a 17 by 1 by 0.05-in. metal strip that served as a wear strip on a thrust reverser from a Continental DC-10 that had taken off minutes before the Concorde.
The prosecutors tracked the blame down to the mechanic and Continental, ignoring so much other causal evidence. It is simply ridiculous."
James is a seasoned aviation journalist with more than three decades of service with AVIATION WEEK.