Four times since July, 1979, Air France Concorde supersonic jetliners have blown tires while taking off from Dulles or Kennedy airports. Fragments from tires have damaged engines, punctured hydraulic lines and cut electrical connections, all potentially dangerous situations.
After the first two incidents, French authorities began to require that each wheel/tire combination be inspected before takeoff and told crews that the landing gear should remain extended if there was any suspicion of a tire problem (so the pilot could land the plane quickly without having to worry whether the gear would come down).
Well, the National Transportation Safety Board noted this week, "Operational experience . . . casts serious doubt on the effectiveness of the corrective action."
In October, 1979, an Air France Concorde blew a tire leaving New York, but the crew raised the gear and flew to Paris. Last February, a Concorde leaving Dulles blew a tire; the crew raised the gear, but was forced to land in New York to check engine damage that, it turned out, had been caused by the blown tire.
The safety board recommended mandatory procedural changes to French officials. Peter Stewart, Air France's New York spokesman, said a "flat-tire detection system" is being installed on all Air France Concordes and that Air France procedures call for the gear to remain extended after a blown-tire takeoff. However, he said, "The final decision on whether to retract the landing gear and continue with the flight is made by the captain."