LONDON - Warned of new official doubts about the Concorde's tires, British Airways grounded its supersonic fleet in dramatic fashion Tuesday, pulling a New York-bound plane off the runway.
The airline was told that British and French officials looking into last month's Air France Concorde disaster intended to revoke the jet's airworthiness certification. Later, the French Transport Ministry said the safety concerns focused on the plane's tires and that a formal recommendation that all Concorde flights be suspended was imminent.
The move raised questions about the future of Concorde, the sleek luxury jet that safely carried passengers through the sound barrier for a quarter-century before 113 people died in the July 25 crash near Paris. Air France grounded its Concordes immediately after the crash.
Investigators believe the ''initial cause'' of the Air France crash was a metal strip that punctured a tire, sending huge chunks of rubber into the area of the fuel tanks. The French Transport Ministry said it would be premature to resume Concorde flights given the number of unanswered questions.
British Airways' decision to ground its Concordes apparently was done with some haste. Tuesday morning's Concorde flight to New York from Heathrow was recalled to the airport gate, rolling back with 37 passengers aboard. The passengers were transferred to other aircraft.
''Following a series of discussions in recent days, we have become aware of the likely interim finding of the joint accident investigators that a single tire burst was the cause of the accident,'' Britain's Civil Aviation Authority said.
The agency added: ''We now take the view that the certificate of airworthiness should be suspended to enable further measures to be considered to ensure that a satisfactory level of safety exists with regard to the risks associated with tire bursts on Concorde.''
A statement from the French ministry on the plane's tires did not elaborate on the eventual risks. But the head of the country's Accident and Inquiry Bureau, Paul-Louis-Arslanian, said, ''We must guarantee a satisfactory level of security.''
''This level of security must be guaranteed, and it is not today,'' Arslanian told France 3 television.
Arslanian told France 3 the recommendation to suspend all Concorde planes was likely to be signed Wednesday.
After the Paris crash, British Airways defended the Concorde's safety record and resumed service with its seven aircraft after a one-day pause. In contrast, Air France decided its remaining five Concordes would not fly.
BA's chief executive, Rod Eddington, said Tuesday that he did not regret the earlier decision.
''We worked closely with the investigators and regulators on a daily basis,'' Eddington said. ''We have been flying this aircraft in commercial service for 25 years. It's done 50,000 flights with us and it has a terrific record.''
However, the one Concorde crash gave the airliner one of the worst safety records among commercial aircraft - in contrast to jets such as the ubiquitous Boeing 737 which has had more crashes, but vastly more flights.
British Airways was operating only one Concorde flight per day each way between London and New York during August, citing a normal summer reduction in demand for premium air travel.
Reactions from Concorde users - often celebrities - were mixed.
''I'm unhappy. I was booked to go on it a week from today to London. I've flown that maybe 20 times,'' said U.S. film director Robert Altman. ''I still think it's the safest and most efficient way to travel. It's safer than getting in your car and going to work.''
Cabaret singer-pianist Bobby Short said he took the jets to save time and avoid jet lag.
''I wouldn't say I was desolated by the cancelation but I am sorry about it. It's certainly going to alter my options for travel abroad quite a lot,'' Short said.
At the airline's Terminal Four at Heathrow, reaction among passengers boarding other flights was mixed.
''I'm sure today's decision was done because of safety reasons and because of that I'm happy they have made it,'' said Thomas Lee, 63, at the airline's Terminal Four at Heathrow. Lee was heading for New York.