Post by Paul Sengupta
Don't know if you know about this, but the petition to keep Concorde
flying is going to change. The emphasis is now going to be on keeping
one airworthy to be used at airshows, etc.
It's a valiant attempt, and just in case a miracle should happen I've signed
the petition, but I fear that it's simply not realistic to try to keep a
In its favour, Concorde is a very low-hours aircraft. Although it's been
flying for 30-odd years, it's so fast that it never actually flew for very
long on any one trip, and so when compared to a B747 of similar age, the
fatigue hour count is low. It's also a collection of some of the most
inspired engineering to be found anywhere in the world, by which I mean
things like the engine technology and the aerodynamics. Oh, and it's the
most inspiring passenger airliner to watch - even experienced airline
captains admit to getting a thrill seeing it take off as they sit in the
queue for the runway at Heathrow, JFK, etc.
Unfortunately, this is about all that it has going for it. It's expensive to
run, it's as noisy as hell, and in the current climate of dwindling ticket
sales, I don't think BA really had a lot of choice but to withdraw it.
I was as cynical as the next person when the announcement to withdraw
Concorde was made - the machine is part of Britain's heritage and I agree
that's a crying shame that nobody will see one fly again. It would appear,
though, that the reasons were perfectly logical, it's just that none of the
mainstream media actually bothered to report the facts as they stood.
For instance, I wondered why Air France withdrew its aircraft last spring,
while BA hung on until the autumn. It would appear, in fact, that the
contract between Air France and BA by which each airline paid half of the
maintenance contract with the manufacturer expired at the end of the
autumn - so while Air France decided to stop immediately and save cash on a
money-losing enterprise, BA at least knew that AF would be contributing to
their maintenance costs. They also knew darned well that they could
capitalise on the "book now for the last few flights" market, and hence they
kept it going until the maintenance contract ran out.
I was also cynical about whether BA's reason for withdrawing really was
because they couldn't make money on it any more, but having seen people like
Mike Bannister (senior Concorde captain) state that this really was the
case, I'm willing to accept that this may be the case.
The Richard Branson thing was also a red herring, I reckon. I have a great
deal of respect for Sir Richard (he may act like a muppet, but he's happy,
he's loaded and he's a knight of the realm, so he must be doing something
right), but one of the ways he's made the Virgin name so widely known is his
innate ability to get into the public eye with schemes that aren't
necessarily realistic. I do wish he'd been able to put together a decent
case for taking over the Concorde fleet, but I really don't think that as a
hard-nosed businessman it would be possible to do so - remember, even if the
costs remained the same as they had within BA, the maintenance fees would
have doubled because he wouldn't have been sharing the bill with Air France.
To make a profitable Concorde operation would probably have taken tens
(maybe even hundreds) of millions of pounds, and no sensible finance
director would ever sign up to it.
All this said, though, there are two questions that do remain unanswered.
1. C of A
I read reports that the reason the aircraft was being withdrawn was because
the manufacturers were withdrawing its Certificate of Airworthiness. This
struck me as odd, (a) because it's the CAA/JAA that issues the C of A, not
the manufacturer, and (b) one would assume that even though it's an
expensive aircraft to maintain, the manufacturer would have been more than
happy to maintain it for any airline willing to pay the bills.
2. BA's right to decommission
Exactly what was the agreement between the British government and BA when
the latter was privatised? From what I understand, the aircraft were sold to
BA for a nominal sum (£1 each or thereabouts) - but what were the conditions
of this sale? Were BA obliged to keep flying the thing for a given time, for
instance, or could they have decommissioned them the day after privatisation
if they'd deemed them too expensive to fly? And was there any clause in
there that stated that if they stopped flying them, they were to revert to
public ownership? Because if not, there should have been.