Remembering Air France Flight 4590 Concorde Crash
Throughout history, air travel was associated with luxury and exclusivity. High ticket prices filtered out the passengers, making aviation an extravagant way to travel for the top 1% of the people.
If you were to google the phrase “Golden age of aviation”, you would be surprised – as if passengers traveled on 3-star Michelin restaurants in the sky, rather than plain metal tubes we are used to see today.
But even so, one aircraft became synonymous with luxury travel when it first made its debut commercial flight in 1976.
With ticket prices as high as $9,000 for a round-trip above the Atlantic, only a very limited number of people could even come close to being able to afford a journey on the Concorde.
The eleganza extravaganza ended in 2003 when both British Airways and Air France scheduled the last flights for the supersonic jet.
And it all started with Air France Flight 4590 in 2000.
The official report by BEA, released on January 2002, determined that a metal strip from Continental Airlines DC-10 destroyed one of the jet’s tires. As a result, the debris from the tire punctured a fuel tank, causing a huge flame to erupt under the wing of Concorde.
The public settled on the fact that the metal strip was to be blamed for the accident. Furthermore, a French court in 2010 charged Continental Airlines and John Taylor, a mechanic who worked for the airline, with involuntary manslaughter.
The charge was overturned in 2012, clearing both the now-defunct airline and the mechanic of any charges.
So, if the court deemed Continental Airlines not responsible for the accident, what could have caused the crash?
A brewing disaster
Concorde was a true technological marvel; there are no doubts about it. However, the supersonic jet had its fair share of issues, especially with tires. The New York Times wrote an article in November 1981, reporting NTSB’s “serious concern” about the safety of the Concorde’s tires. Four separate incidents involving different Air France Concorde frames were recorded between 1979 and 1981. In addition, a British Airways Concorde also suffered a tire blowout on August 9, 1981, during take-off from New York JFK airport.
The same article highlights the first tire blowout in Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) in June 1979, which the NTSB described as following:
“Tire debris and wheel shrapnel resulted in damage to the No. 2 engine, puncture of three fuel tanks, and severance of several hydraulic lines and electrical wires. Additionally, a large hole was torn in the top wing skin”.
The BEA, the French agency that investigates aviation accidents and incidents, has laid out these recommendations in June 1980, following the 1979 Washington Dulles (IAD) incident:
· A device within the cockpit that informs the pilots about a deflated tire;
· Improve the durability of the tires during takeoff and landing;
· Improve the durability of the wheel after an event when the tire deflates;
· Upgrade the FDR so that it would show the condition of the hydraulic system;
· Force pilots to wear headsets, with two different recordings that would show up on the FDR.
The NTSB also raised concerns regarding continuous tire issues in 1981. In the safety recommendation, the board noted that even after Air France had issued a Technical Information Update to pilots to inspect the tires before takeoff and not to raise the landing gear after a tire problem is heard, the NTSB had to repeat the same instructions once again.
British Airways Concorde tire blowouts
British Airways had its own fair share of cases of Concorde tire explosions. However, unlike Air France, the British airline made significant changes to the design of Concorde wheels.
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