Concorde & British Airways

The Story of Concorde with British Airways

Date 15 January 1976:

 

The official handover ceremony of British Airways first Concorde G-BOAA, following it's delivery from Filton the previous day. The location is the North Bay, Technical Block B at the BA engineering base at Heathrow Airport. This aircraft operated British Airways first commercial Concorde service six days later to Bahrain in the hands of Captain Norman Todd, Captain Brian Calvert and Senior Flight Engineer John Lidiard.

BA was always a passionate supporter of Concorde, always exceeding Air France in terms of routes, flight hours, and marketing. With the exception of its 2000-01 grounding, BA operated double daily flights from Heathrow to JFK for 25 years. Additionally, London to Barbados was a regular scheduled once per week flight until nearly the end. Dulles service continued until 1994. A Miami to London (via Dulles) route was also operated for a short term along with an interchange with Singapore Airlines. BA never suffered a serious accident with its seven strong fleet. Concorde service was profitable by the late 1980s and if not for the economic downturn and Air France Concorde crash of 2000, may have survived to this day.

Concorde earned £500 million for British Airways after tax profit, this was between a loss making 1982 and a highly profitable 2000 with just seven aircraft. The first profitable year was 1983 (£14 million) increasing to £54 million in 1987. BA had good and bad years, in 1992 they actually even made a small loss, but then quickly returned to profitability. Immediately before the crash the profit levels were running at nearly £60 million and could have returned had they kept flying. (Even the last 6 months of operation in 2003 netted £50 million profit).

British Airways has quite a fascinating history with Concorde when compared to Air France. The carrier initially launched service from London Heathrow to Bahrain (yes, small island country) on the same day as Air France. British Airways started their 27 year run with Concorde with this odd route; one most people probably don’t remember when this aircraft is mentioned.

Service to the United States did not begin until May 24th, 1976, due to local protests about noise from the sonic booms. British Airways first served the United States via Washington Dulles International Airport, only breaking into New York City starting November 22nd, 1977 when the Supreme Court ended the ban on Concorde in New York.

British Airways initially used the call sign “Speedbird Concorde” for their new aircraft, while Air France did not use any special call sign. This was done partly to alert air traffic controllers that they were dealing with Concorde, and the plane’s unique abilities and restrictions.

Interestingly, the British Airways Concorde G-BOAD was the only Concorde to ever be painted in a livery other than Air France or British Airways. In 1977, British Airways and Singapore Airlines jointly operated Concorde flights from London to Singapore, and the aircraft sported two liveries. One side was British Airways, the other was Singapore Airlines. The flight did not last long, as the Singapore government, much like in the United States, was unhappy with the level of noise produced by Concorde. Compounding the issues, India would not allow Concorde to travel at supersonic speeds over their airspace, and the flight was eventually cancelled in 1980.

With unprofitable routes mounting, Concorde was going through rough times in the early 1980s. At this point, British Airways made a move that potentially saved supersonic travel. In 1981, British Airways managing director Sir John King managed to purchase the Concorde fleet from the British Government outright for £16.5 million plus the first year’s profits. Following the purchase, British Airways increased fares, bringing Concorde routes closer to profitability. With the fleet now owned outright, British Airways added additional routes. They included Miami after a stop in Washington D.C., and Barbados, in addition to the already daily service to New York.

In 1996, British Airways Concorde G-BOAD set the record for fastest transatlantic passenger flight, clocking in at 2 hours, 52 minutes, 59 seconds on a flight from New York JFK to London Heathrow.

After the grounding in 2000 due to the Air France crash, British Airways went all in on their Concorde fleet. Concorde was the first fleet type to sport the new “Union Flag” livery, and underwent major interior renovations before returning to the skies. The first post-grounding passenger flight took place on September 11th, 2001, landing shortly before the attacks that would seal the fate for Concorde. Once flights resumed once again on November 7th, 2001, the air travel industry as we knew it had changed. On April 10th, 2003, both British Airways and Air France announced the end of Concorde flights. Air France was reportedly unable to turn a profit and had decided to shutter the service, which would have left British Airways responsible for shouldering the weight of the entire program. Before the Concorde fleet was to be sent off to museums and elsewhere, British Airways held a farewell tour in North America, stopping in Toronto, Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. In the UK, Concorde visited Birmingham, Belfast, Manchester, Cardiff, and Edinburgh. The Queen even had Windsor Castle illuminated in honor of Concorde. The final Concorde flight took place on November 26th, 2003 as a ferry flight to Bristol, U.K.

Three British Airways Concordes at Glasgow Airport during August 1983, this was to promote the launch of Super Shuttle services to Heathrow. All three Concordes performed passenger flights during that day, this was a change from the normal Tridents and recently introduced 757's