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Concorde returns to JFK with plastic forks, knives

The distinctive roar of the world’s only supersonic jetliner returned to John F. Kennedy International Airport with the arrival last week of two Concordes bringing travelers who Mayor Rudolph Giuliani invited to “unload your wallets and shop ‘til you drop.”

Two Concorde jets in succession touched down Nov. 7 at JFK to resume service interrupted 15 months ago by an Air France Concorde crash that killed 113 people at Charles De Gaulle Airport outside Paris.

An Air France Concorde carrying passengers who paid as much as $12,652 for a round trip landed first, followed by a British Airways invitation-only complimentary flight filled with celebrities, politicians and some of the British airline’s best regular customers.

U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans), who arrived on the British Airways special flight, was delighted.

“It was like riding in a Ferrari in the air,” said Meeks about the 1,350 mile-an-hour top speed of the world’s only supersonic jetliner. “And it’s true what they say - from that altitude (60,000 feet), you can actually see the curvature of the earth.”

Meeks, whose congressional district includes JFK, rode at twice the speed of sound along with such fellow travelers as British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Beatle Paul McCartney, the rock star Sting and television personality David Frost on the three-hour, 45-minute trip from London’s Heathrow airport.

A ticket that steep brought the likes of vintage champagne, fine wines, scrambled eggs with truffles and fresh lobster. Still, in keeping with the troubled times, even the elegant sustenance was consumed using plastic cutlery.

At a news conference at the British Airways terminal at JFK, French Transport Minister Jean-Claude Gayssot, Air France Chairman Jean-Cyril Spinetta, British Transport Minister John Spellar and British Airways Chief Executive Rod Eddington all paid tribute to New York City for its fortitude since the World Trade Center attack and pledged their support.

They invited Giuliani to try the unique jet and presented him with a desk model of twin Concordes.

Giuliani, who has been applauded for his leadership after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, said he might consider such a trip to London and Paris.

“I love this plane,” the mayor said. “I believe I need a vacation.”

“New York has been home to the Concorde for more than 20 years and it is with great pride that we welcome this symbol of European and American commerce back to New York,” Giuliani said.

“To the terrorists, I say, ‘the reality is that New York is open for business.’ To our visitors, I say ‘welcome, unload your wallets and shop 'til you drop.’”

Air France and British Airways officials said they were confident the technical modifications made to the Concorde since the July 25, 2000 crash now make the plane completely safe.

The changes involved installation of fuel tank liners made of Kevlar, used in bullet-proof vests; new nearly indestructible tires particularly resistant to foreign object damage; and reinforcing and insulation of wiring in the plane’s undercarriage to avoid electrical sparks in case of damage.

The Concorde, developed jointly by France and Britain, first entered service in 1976 with British Airways first serving not only Washington and New York, but also Bahrain. Air France at first flew to New York and Washington, Dakar, Rio de Janeiro, Caracas and Mexico City. Only the London and Paris routes to New York remain.

In 1972, Congress defeated proposed legislation to provide billions for development of an American supersonic jetliner. Opponents said such a plane was impractical, mostly because the massive engines required to provide such speed consumed so much fuel that its weight precluded carrying enough passengers to bring fares within reach of the average traveler.

The Concorde carries 100 passengers, fewer than some New York-Washington shuttle jets.

The exultation over the Concorde’s return was not unanimous.

Queens opponents of the plane’s return demonstrated at JFK in August and U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (R-Forest Hills) has called for an end to Concorde flights at Kennedy. He contends the Concorde produces more than four times the carbon monoxide as other jets during takeoffs and landings.

It also is exempt from FAA requirements that airliners be equipped with Stage III engines to reduce noise.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.

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