The BBC news story of the simultaneous announcements by BA & AF

 

The big question since the crash had been how long Concordes would remain in service. In theory, they could have continued flying for the rest of the decade. Despite their age, Concordes have far fewer flying hours on them than other airliners, but the aircraft are subjected to much greater stress and spares are always problematic.

BA originally planned to retire its Concordes in 2010, and even had a project team looking at the feasibility of extending their life beyond that. Air France had not announced a retirement date, though 2007 had been suggested.

However, falling demand coupled to rising costs put an end to such plans. There were three specific factors.

First, the World Trade Centre disaster dramatically reduced demand for transatlantic flights. Many Americans were too scared to fly, and around 40 of BA's most frequent Concorde passengers worked in the WTC and were killed in the attack.

Second, the Iraq war. Air France had never marketed Concorde as effectively as BA, and suffered particularly badly from anti-French sentiment in America when France refused to back the US/UK invasion, with loadings falling as low as six passengers on some flights! Clearly it could never sustain operations with so few passengers.

Third, Airbus advised that a much more intensive - and expensive - maintenance programme would be required to keep Concorde flying. AF simply couldn't afford this. BA might have been able to afford half the costs, but without AF it was faced with 100% of them. Relatively low demand coupled to a big hike in maintenance costs meant that the service simply wouldn't be profitable.

Both BA & AF made simultaneous announcements that Concorde would be withdrawn from service by the autumn. Air France ceased flights at the end of May, and BA on 24th October.

BA was clearly surprised by how much flak it took over the announcement. Concorde was a much-loved icon, and there was great public dismay. Some spin was required, and a short time afterwards, it was announced that Airbus would no longer support Concorde 'at any price'.

This was an obvious fiction. If it had been true, BA would have said so in the original press release. As can be seen in the BA quote in the BBC story above, it didn't: the reason was very clearly stated as 'commercial reasons'.

And no manufacturer would tell one of its biggest customers that it was unwilling to support that customer's flagship fleet 'at any price'. On the other hand, if that customer quietly asked Airbus to take the heat, there would be no reason for it to refuse: Airbus doesn't sell to the public, so some public anger would do it no harm.

Some further spin was introduced when it was announced that the CAA was withdrawing the type certificate. The reality was that Airbus voluntarily surrendered the certificate. There was simply no need to retain it when the only two airlines flying Concorde were ceasing their services.

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