NYTimes.com Article: British and French to Halt Concorde Flights

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Fri Apr 11 18:10:29 PDT 2003

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British and French to Halt Concorde Flights

April 10, 2003


LONDON, April 10 - After 27 years of supersonic travel
lofting rock stars, executives, and the rest of the
champagne set across the Atlantic Ocean, British Airways
and Air France said today that they would retire their
fleet of Concorde airplanes later this year. The decision
will bring to an end an era when the needle-nosed jet stood
for the ascendancy of technology and economic hope in the
late 20th century. 

The airlines said they made the decision because of falling
passenger demand and steadily increasing costs of
maintaining the fleet of delta-winged airplanes. But in
recent years, Concorde has been battered by safety fears
among potential passengers after a crash outside Paris in
2000 that killed 113 people, and the broader slow-down in
air travel since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Successive years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq have
further dented the mood of business confidence that once
made Concorde an emblem of worldly success. Airlines across
Europe and the United States have been reporting steady
declines in passenger numbers, especially on long-haul
flights to and from America. 

The airlines say 12 of the original 20 Concordes are still
in service. British Airways has seven and Air France has

In recent months, Air France's Concorde's have flown at
less than half capacity. 

Sara John, a spokeswoman for British Airways said the
withdrawal of concorde will be "permanent as of October
this year" but did not say when the last flight would take
off. Air France set May 31 as the date for its last
scheduled flight of Concorde. 

With global economies slowing and stock markets falling,
moreover, Concorde has come to stand as an emblem of
high-rolling luxury at a time when many people are facing
layoffs and declines. 

Rod Eddington, the chief executive of British Airways, a
radio interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation,
said "If you're laying people off and telling people in
your business to tighten your belt, senior executives then
find it inconsistent to go to the airport and get on
Concorde rather than subsonic aircraft." 

But he insisted that the retirement of the planes was not
related to the crash on July 25, 2000, when an Air France
Concorde burst into flames on take-off and crashed close to
Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. Following the crash,
all Concordes were grounded while safety modifications were
made. Supersonic flights were re-introduced 15 months
later, on Nov. 7, 2001. 

We have complete safety at Concorde, complete confidence in
its ability to fly safely," Mr. Eddington said. "This is
the end of a fantastic era in world aviation but bringing
forward Concorde's retirement is a prudent business
decision at a time when we are having to make difficult
decisions right across the airline." 

Air France said in a statement: "This decision is motivated
by deteriorating economic results observed over the past
months and which accelerated since the beginning of the

Concorde has been flying in commercial service since
January 1976 although its first test-flight took place in
1969. Since then British Airways said its Concordes carried
2.5 million passengers - not in the same great comfort as
in the First Class cabin of a subsonic airliner but at
greater speed, crossing the Atlantic in less than four
hours at more than twice the speed of sound. Its record
crossing was just under three hours. 

The airplane was not a commercial success but stood as an
emblem of British Airways' and Air France's prestige and
their wider offering to top-end travelers like celebrities
and corporate bosses. Its four gas-guzzling engines made so
much noise that it could not be used on regular flights
over populated areas and, carrying only 100 passengers, it
was not as cost-effective as wide-aisle subsonic planes
flying at slower speeds. For all that, passengers paid up
to $13,500 for a round-trip ticket, judging that their time
- or their image - was worth the extra money. 

Writing off costs related to closing the service will cost
British Airways $132 million, Mr. Eddington said. Air
France's chief executive, Jean-Cyril Spinett, said it will
cost $65 million to retire the five Air France Concordes. 


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