Farnborough Air Show

BA plays villain in Concorde sequel

 - November 15, 2006, 11:40 AM

If Concorde were the child of quarrelsome adults, the tabloids might label this a “tug of love,” but by whatever name it goes, British Airways seems to end up cast as the villain. When BA announced it would retire the supersonic transport in October 2003, Virgin Atlantic proprietor Sir Richard Branson seized the opportunity to embarrass his archrival by offering to buy and continue operating the aircraft. Predictably, he was turned down by Airbus (which had inherited the role of supporting the SST fleet) and by BA, and that too was a public spectacle that portrayed his archrival as a villain to hordes of patriotic British Concorde supporters quick to embrace the argument that since BA had paid only one pound to buy each of its seven airplanes 30 years ago, the hulls remain public property.

Fast forward to 2006. Most of the Concorde fleet is scattered among museums (and suffering from exposure to the elements while awaiting shelter), but many Brits still hanker to see and hear one flying. Earlier this year in a BBC poll of 200,000 viewers,  Concorde came out on top as their favorite example of British design since 1900.

Concorde supporters have been getting organized, and the success of their efforts hinges on British Airways. The Save Concorde Group (www.save-concorde.co.uk) has a specific goal in mind: getting one Concorde flying in time to lead a fly-by of significant British aircraft during the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. BA has chosen not to cooperate with the group and so far has refused to release the airplane and engineering data the volunteers of the Save Concorde Group need to formulate a business plan and achieve their goal.

Former BA Concorde captain and fleet manager Jock Lowe has told the Save Concorde Group that getting one Concorde flying again would require between $18 million and $27 million, and $1.8 million a year thereafter to keep it flying, and the group is confident it can raise that much money through volunteer contributions and the Heritage Lottery Fund. Former senior BA Concorde flight engineer Ian Kirby has said there is no technological reason Concorde cannot continue to fly, as has the UK Civil Aviation Authority.

British Airways remains the one pivotal party that is not playing ball, says the group, fueling conspiracy theories in the supporters’ camp that speculate on the real reasons behind BA’s retiring its Concordes in 2003 and behind its current refusal to cooperate with the “RTF” (return to flight) efforts. The airline has said Concorde is commercially nonviable, and SCG’s retort that it seeks to operate just one airplane in nothing more than a heritage role has so far failed to soften BA’s stance. BA has also told the group that information on maintenance costs is “commercially sensitive,” which SCG finds particularly baffling in the context of an airplane that has been retired for almost three years.

Ben Lord, an SCG official, told Aviation International News that the group will shortly be delivering to BA a petition with 30,000 signatures. Lord also noted that an encouraging number of British and European Members of Parliament are backing the group’s RTF efforts. SCG has its eye on a particular Concorde: G-BOAF, one of the youngest of BA’s seven, currently parked at its Bristol Filton Airport birthplace.