This article was first published in the summer of 2019 as part of a 100 part series on the history of BA and its predecessor airlines. You can read the full series in numerical order here, or by theme here.
“You leave. Arrive before”.
That was the promise of Concorde. One of the 20th century’s greatest design icons and the world’s only supersonic aircraft, flying at around twice the speed of sound at 1,350mph and at an altitude of 60,000 feet.
Concorde was in commercial service at BA from 1976 to 2003. In that time more than 2.5 million passengers flew on the fleet of seven aircraft. It operated scheduled services principally to New York, but also at times to Barbados, Bahrain, Dallas Fort Worth, Miami, Singapore and Washington. It also operated charter flights to over 250 destinations worldwide, including annual flights to Lapland.
One of its most frequent passengers was an oil industry executive who notched up 70 return trips a year.
Concorde also benefited from its own dedicated “cellar in the sky” wine collection and the promise that bags would be delivered to passengers within 8 minutes of arrival.
Concorde was grounded in August 2000 following the Air France crash in Paris and the withdrawal of its airworthiness certificate. It returned to commercial service in November 2001 following a package of improvements including new fuel tank liners to prevent leaks and new tyres that were less likely to explode if punctured.
BA also worked with Factorydesign and Sir Terence Conran on a £14 million redesign of Concorde’s interiors with the aim of “bringing the outside in”. The redesigned interior included new seats, lighting and washrooms. Sir Terence Conran also designed new Concorde Rooms for London Heathrow Terminal 4 and New York JFK Terminal 7.
However, by April 2003 the party was over as BA announced the retirement of Concorde. On 24 October 2003, members of Concorde’s exclusive club of regular patrons such as the late Sir David Frost and Dame Joan Collins gathered in the Concorde Room at New York JFK for Concorde’s final passenger flight. After a farewell speech from Concorde Captain Mike Bannister, they boarded BA2 for the final time, to land at Heathrow before the world’s media.
A Concorde may now only sit stationary on the airfield at London Heathrow, but its delta wings and imposing needle nose still have the ability to turn heads.
The other six BA Concorde aircraft are positioned around the world for visitors including at Aerospace Bristol, Manchester Airport, The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum New York, The Museum Of Flight Seattle and The National Museum Of Flight Scotland.
Whilst there are many organisations dedicated to developing a new Supersonic aircraft, with efficiency now ruling, it is unlikely we will see a return to Supersonic passenger services. Concorde will however remain an enduring source of fascination.