France, Britain to Test Concordes

Tests on France's grounded fleet of supersonic

Concordes will be carried out next week and the luxury jets could

very likely fly again sometime this year, the country's

transportation minister said today.

The fleet of 12 supersonic jets has been grounded since a blazing Air France Concorde smashed into a hotel minutes after taking off from Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport last July. All 109 people on board and four on the ground were killed. Jean-Claude Gayssot, the transportation minister, told RMC radio that ground tests would be carried out in France next week and flight tests in Britain. Gayssot said he would wait for the results of the tests before making a decision on whether to renew the jets' airworthiness certificate, which he suspended after the crash. Asked when Concorde would resume service, Gayssot said, "I hope it will be as soon as possible. It seems quite probable to me that it will be in 2001." Gayssot said the ground tests would be carried out at a military aviation base in Istres, in southern France, and that the flight tests would be carried out in Britain. British Airways is the only other operator of Concordes and British officials have been closely involved in the inquiry into the Air France crash. "I want to be given the necessary guarantees to prove that the chain of events which led to the catastrophe cannot happen again," Gayssot said. "For the airworthiness certificate to be awarded, I need these elements, and I am waiting for the tests to be carried out," he added.

Jets to Get New Fuel Tank Liners

Air France grounded its fleet of Concordes after last year's crash. British Airways kept its planes flying until shortly before the jets' airworthiness certificate was withdrawn in mid-August. Authorities believe the crash was caused when a metal strip gashed one of the Concorde's tires, sending rubber debris hurtling toward fuel tanks and triggering a fuel leak and fire that brought the plane down. Investigators believe the strip came from a Continental Airlines DC-10, that used the same runway a few minutes before the doomed jet. British authorities have said they plan to hold a separate series of tests early this year on new fuel tank liners, designed to greatly reduce the chance of fire.