Air France and British Airways have announced they will resume supersonic Concorde flights to New York on November 7. "We are delighted to be returning Concorde to the skies and back into New York," said BA chief executive Rod Eddington. "We hope Concordes return will play a major part in rebuilding confidence in New York and demonstrating that it is business as usual between the UK and the USA," he added.
New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani welcomed the announcement, saying: "Concordes return is symbolic of how all New Yorkers feel about rebuilding this great city. I am personally proud to welcome Concorde back to New York."
Air France chairman Jean-Cyril Spinetta said: "Concorde's return to New York is symbolic of Air France's tribute to the people of this city, to their strength and their strong resolve to rebuild." "Within our own ranks, we have not forgotten the show of sympathy and support of many New Yorkers in the hours and days following the Concorde accident on July 25, 2000."
BA originally hoped to get Concorde back in the skies before the end of the summer, but plans were delayed by the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington that hammered demand for transatlantic travel. The airline is confident that demand for the three-hour-20-minute Atlantic crossing will be strong. A BA spokeswoman said: "Interest is very high from corporate users and frequent flyers. We have been talking to them and they are keen to get back in the air on board Concorde. "It's early to say but we are very positive about the future of Concorde," she said.
After an initial November 7 trip for corporate customers and media, BA will operate six services a week between Heathrow and New York's JFK airport. BA is also planning to relaunch its London-Barbados service once a week from December.
Aviation Analysts believe that Concorde will be still be a commercial success: "Concorde only holds a handful of passengers," noted HSBC aviation analyst Robin Horne. "You're always going to be able to find 50 passengers prepared to travel. "This decision is mainly to show that they have confidence in the future of air travel," Horne said. "I don't think it's money that comes into it. "It's a demonstration of their confidence in the business and their ability to continue flying."
The flagship aircraft may only account for a small fraction of operating profit, but its prestige value is incalculable. BA staff speak reverentially of the 'old lady of the fleet'. Chief pilot Mike Bannister told reporters recently how personally excited he was about taking the helm again.
"They won't be filling the plane by any means but I think the value of Concorde to both Air France and BA is primarily of a marketing sort," said Jonathan Wober at Deutsche Bank. "The branding and marketing value is even more keenly felt now than it would be when things are going well," Wober said. Concorde's value is primarily to business customers who commute between Europe and New York several times during the working week. The three-hour-20-minute link was quite worth the ticket price of around £6,000 (9,600 euros, $8,700 ) to high-flying executives.
Bannister told reporters of regular users whose working lives had been turned upside down when the aircraft was grounded last year. "We have kept in very close contact with the top 1,500 customers in a number of ways, by writing to them, calling them up, directors calling them personally," the chief pilot told reporters in a briefing last month. "The reason we fly Concorde is because it's what our customers want," he said. "BA is very proud of our flagship it is a great contribution to modern life. We have had huge messages of support, and we were determined to return it to service."