Back Where she belongs

After the atrocities of September 11th, there were many who thought that Concorde would just not be able to pay its way, but when British Airways opened for flight bookings on the morning of October 16th at 9am there was a rush for tickets.

By lunchtime over half of the tickets for the first fare paying services on November the 9th had been snapped up, along with a good proportion of the seats available on the early services to Barbados that would begin at the start of December.

Rod Eddington talks to Discovery Channel

The Chief Executive of British Airways, Rod Eddington (who would fly on the first flight, in his favourite row 26 seat), explained to the Discovery channel, why they had decided to put Concorde back in service after September 11th:

"September 11th didn't change our belief that Concorde should go back into service, because our customers, the people who use the aircraft day in day out, were still in their hearts, absolutely sure they needed Concorde back in servcie."

As had always been the case with anything to do with Concorde, there had to be one final twist in the tail in the lead up to the return to Service on Wednesday November 7th, and this time would be no exception; With the United States deep into military action against those who they believed had carried out the attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Tony Blair had completed an intensive diplomatic trip round of Middle East, that took him to Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. It was now imperative that he meet up with US President Bush to brief him on the developments.

The Prime Ministers diary for that week was very tight, and he was obliged to be in the UK Parliament to take his weekly Prime Ministers questions in the afternoon of November 7th. The solution was for his office to charter Concorde to fly him (and the press corps) to Washington in the afternoon of November the 7th, so he could meet with George Bush that evening.

For British Airways this was a welcome boost and great endorsement for Concorde, which would help dispel any worries the public had about flying on the aircraft after the Air France Accident in July 2000. A British Airways spokesman told the BBC:
"We are obviously pleased and delighted that Mr Blair has chosen to charter Concorde."

"It shows that the plane is an important business link between London and the east coast of the United States."

Air France decided that they would designate Concorde F-BTSD as their prime aircraft for the AF 002 Service on November 7th. F-BVFB would be available as a back up should it be required.

At London's Heathrow airport, with 2 flights to operate, British Airways needed all three aircraft to be serviceable. Fresh from the final operational assessment flight a few days earlier, G-BOAE was designated to fly the BA 001 return to service flight. G-BOAF would be the standby for this flight before being prepared for the afternoon Prime Ministerial charter to Washington, designated the BA9093, or as it was being called by many "Blair Force One" after the US President's aircraft "Air Force One". It was hoped that G-BOAG would be available to act as a back up for the BA9093 in the afternoon.

Captain Edgard Chillaud
Air France had previously announced that their flight would be crewed by Captain Edgard Chillaud (AF chief Concorde pilot and head of division), with Captain Robert Vacchiani as co-pilot and Senior Flight Engineer Roger Beral.

British Airways announced that, as expected, Mike Bannister would head up the team on board the BA001, along with Senior First Officer Andy Barnwell, flying as co-pilot and Senior Engineering officers Bob Woodcock and Dick Maher. Also with them on the flight deck would be Captain Richard Owen who would deputise for Captain Bannister during the cruise, so he could meet and greet the VIPs and media travelling in the Cabin. For the BA9093 Captain Les Brodie, who had shared with his boss a lot of the test flying, would be in command, backed up by Co-pilot - Captain Stewart Bates and Senior Engineering officer Peter Carrigan. Senior First Officer Mark Walden and Senior engineering Officer Jez Wood were also on board as the return sector would be used for further line training.

Unlike previous inauguration flights, that had taken off simultaneously from Heathrow and Charles De Gaulle, this time the aircraft would have to fit into the normal schedule departure slots. Both airlines seriously considered carrying out a simultaneous departure, but since the last one took place in 1977, traffic at the two airports had become significantly busier. In 2001 it would be impossible to organise it without a knock on effect to other users of the respective airports.

Both Airlines opted to go with their own scheduled departure time of 10:30am, but with Paris being one hour ahead of GMT, the AF002 service would depart an hour ahead of the BA001.

Concorde is towed to the Air France terminal at Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris
On such an important day, security was a major issue after the recent terrorist attacks, so aircraft were escorted by armed police escorts for parts of their journey, under-tow, from the hanger to the terminal departure gates.

Before dawn in Paris both the primary aircraft for the AF002 service, Sierra-Delta and back up Fox-Bravo were towed from the Air France maintenance base to adjoining stands A20 and A18 respectively, at the Air France terminal at Charles De Gaulle Airport.

Once on stand both aircraft were fuelled and catered for the flight, with the passengers luggage being loaded on to the prime aircraft, Sierra Delta.

Alpha-Echo rolls out of the Hanger at Heathrow before being towed to Terminal 4 (Sky News)
At Heathrow in the early morning light, in front of the UK Media, and surrounded by 270 engineers who ensured the aircraft to service, Alpha Echo was rolled out of the 'West Pen' hanger at Heathrow's tech Block A, before being towed to Terminal 4's V14 Stand.

An hour later she was joined on the adjacent stand, V15, by Alpha-Foxtrot. The two stands are outside the Concorde first class lounge at Terminal 4 which allowed the passengers magnificent views of the aircraft through the windows before boarding.

Similar to the scenes in France, the TV and newspaper joiurnalists were waiting at Heathrow's Terminal 4 to interview the passengers and report on the on-going events.
F-BTSD departs Paris as AF002 on Nov 7th 2001 (Philippe Noret )


Shortly before 10:30am (9:30 GMT), and ahead of schedule, F-BTSD departed from the gate for the 15minute taxi to the threshold of runway 09 at CGD. The airport tower cleared her for take off, and at 10:44am on November 7th 2001, Air France had officially put Concorde back in service.

Air France used the occasion to introduce a new gourmet menu that included fresh lobster, duck, petits fours and an excellent selection of fine wines, selected by the 1992 world champion Sommelier, Philippe Faure-Brac.

On board the flight was Jean-Cyril Spinetta, President of Air France, accompanied by Jean-Claude Gayssot, French Minister for Transport, along with several personalities of the business and aviation world, including Edouard Michelin of the Michelin tyre company.

At Heathrow there was a problem - the VIPs and media would not board the aircraft, they were too busy "networking" and enjoying the airline's hospitality in the departure lounge! but once they were all eventually on board Captain Bannister welcomed them over the PA:

G-BOAE about to depart from Stand V14
Good morning Lords, Ladies and Gentleman, my name is Captain Mike Bannister, British Airways Chief Concorde pilot. I would like to welcome you on-board this special flight to New York today, the airlines first scheduled supersonic flight in over a year.

Today's flight is symbolic in more ways than one, British Airways hopes it will play a part in showing our support for the great city of New York and demonstrating that it is business as usual between the UK and USA.

On a personal note after 22 years of flying Concorde it is fantastic to be back behind the controls once more.

In 5 minutes I will be starting the engines and pushing back for take-off and I expect to be airborne at around 10:45

With me on the flight deck today are Captain Richard Owen, Senior First officer Andy Barnwell and Senior Engineering Officers, Dick Maher and Bob Woodcock

Our flying time to New York today is just 3hours and 20 minutes and for those of you who have not flown supersonic before, I will be letting you know when we reach the speed of sound.

During the flight I will be passing the controls over to Captain Richard Owen and I will then take the opportunity to come back and say hello to you all.

So all that is left is for me to say sit back, relax and enjoy today's service. I leave you in the very capable hands of Louise Munn, the Cabin Service Director for today's flight, and her team."

G-BOAE departs from Heathrow as the BA001 (Paul Dopson)
45 minutes after Sierra Delta had departed from Paris, the first scheduled British Airways Concorde service to New York for nearly 16 months departed terminal 4 for the short taxi to runway 27L at Heathrow. As she sped down the runway, an American Airlines pilot waiting to take off was heard to call out on the radio, "Go for it Concorde! Go!". Speedbird Concorde One" was airborne at 10:44am, and for British Airways, after months of anguish, eventually had their Flagship back in revenue service.

Sky News covers the take off live from Heathrow
With the flight cruising at Mach 2 over the Atlantic and the a la carte cabin service underway, Mike Bannister came back on the PA to announce to the 90 specially invited passengers on-board: "We have put Concorde back where she belongs. Sit back and relax. We're glad to be back."

Among the 90 passengers on the BA001 were representatives from government, big business, the aviation industry and celebrities. Those on board included the BA chief executive, Rod Eddington, who said his airline had taken more than 7,000 bookings for flights from London to New York and Barbados, with those bookings bringing in 20m. He went on to say that British business leaders had been invited on the flight to thank for their support. "Concorde is back and will be here for at least another decade."

Captain Mike Bannister and rock star Sting (Reuters)
Rock star Sting said he was delighted to be travelling on Concorde again, having been a regular customer for 20 years. "I'm still excited about going on Concorde even after all these years. Flying at twice the speed of sound gives you a buzz." He spent part of the flight patiently having his picture taken with Captain Mike Bannister for the newspapers.

The media were also well represented on board: among them Piers Morgan of the Mirror who made notes and earnestly interviewed several BA executives. "I think I shall have to be filing something," he declared. Sky News Anchor Kay Burley was also present on the flight; "No words could describe it," Kay said of the experience. "I was apprehensive but I knew I was in good hands."

Other well known people on the plane's guest list included Digby Jones, director general of the CBI, and regular Concorde passenger Sir David Frost, who snoozed quietly at the back. The sole government representative was the transport minister, John Spellar, en route for bilateral talks in Washington on improving flying links between Britain and America.

In New York the reception that awaited the two aircraft would match the sending off that they had received in Paris and London. New York Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, was on had to personally welcome the aircraft back to his city at such an important time, as it set out to re-build itself from the attacks that had claimed so many lives.

AF002 arrives in New York (Reuters)
After a little over three and a half hours since the AF 002 departed from Paris, she was on her stand at the New York terminal shortly after 8:20 EST.

The aircraft had arrived more that an hour before she left, helped on by the world's time zones! No one could doubt it, Concorde was indeed what the marketing people called it - "A Time Machine"

Not long after the passengers had departed from the Air France flight, British Airways Concorde Alpha Echo appeared on the horizon, on her final approach into New York's John F Kennedy airport.

BA001 arrives in New York (Reuters)
After a text book landing she taxied to the BA Terminal to be greeted personally, as the AF002 had been, by Mayor Giuliani. The Mayor told the passengers over the PA that, "the bonds which have always bound together London and New York have been cemented even more following the disastrous events of September". As guests left the plane, he invited them to "spend, spend, spend". After the passengers had departed he was shown the cockpit of Concorde and posed for the photographers while hanging out of the co-pilots window.

Once both aircraft had been unloaded, the Air France Concorde (Sierra Delta), was towed to the BA terminal where (s)he was placed 'Nose to Nose' with the British Airways Aircraft (Alpha Echo). This was symbolic of the first two inagural flight to the USA in the late 1970s. Firstly to Washington in 1976 and to New York in 1977 when the aircraft were placed nose to nose, for that one off picture.

The crews from both airlines posed in front of the parked aircraft to jointly commemorate the return to service, in the same way that every other major milestone in the entire Concorde project was shared simultaneously between the UK and France.

The BA001 and AF002 crews in front of the aircraft
In the front row from Left to Right are: Edgar Chillaud (Air France), Edouard Michelin (One of the 3 top managers that run the Michelin tyre company) and Mike Bannister (British Airways). Also in the picture are the flight attendants from each airline in addition to the first officers and flight engineers.

After the photo call a press conference that was held in the terminal building; where the officials from the airlines and the respective transport ministers heaped praise on the aircraft and the people that had put it back in service. In the evening they would be invited to a special dinner, that was being held at the New York Stock Exchange and hosted by its chairman Dick Grasso. Many high profile guests from industry and commerce would gain be invited to cement Concorde's importance to the business communities on both sides of the Atlantic. Special permission from the authorities was granted to allow the chairman of the London Stock exchange, Don Cruickshank to be invited. Normally the two chairmen would not be permitted to attend together due to the strict financial rules that govern the important trading institutions, but these were specially set aside for the occasion.

G-BOAF taxies for departure, with Prime Minister Blair on board
After the events of the morning and early afternoon it was Prime Minister Blair's turn to put his mark of approval on the Concorde return to service project.

After standing by for the BA001, G-BOAF was towed to the VIP ramp at Heathrow to await Tony Blair's arrival, at around 4pm after his question time session in the House of Commons. Already on board the aircraft were members of his entourage and a selection of journalists from the UK's travelling political press corps, who were assisting in the cost of the flight by paying their own way. A 777 was on stand by for the flight. The 777 would follow Concorde out to Washington, arriving more that 4 hours after Alpha-Foxtrot's arrival. The subsonic jet would be used to fly the Prime Minister and journalists back to the UK overnight to allow them some well-deserved rest after a very long day and another long day ahead.

Alpha Foxtrot touches down at Andrews Air Force Base
Tony Blair's chartered Concorde, Alpha-Foxtrot, took off as BA9093 from the south runway at London Heathrow at 16:36GMT, headed for Washington's Andrews Air Force Base, where the Prime Minister would taken to the White house for his meeting with George Bush and subsequent press conference. G-BOAF arrived at 15:11EST, allowing Tony Blair to spend around 5 hours in Washington before flying back home overnight to the UK.

Alpha-Foxtrot was re-positioned to JFK to serve as a back-up aircraft for the very first BA002 service the following day, which like the BA001, would carry specially invited guests on the return leg back to the UK. The BA002 was flown as planned by G-BOAE, with the same flight crew that had operated the re-launch BA001 flight the pervious day. G-BOAF was not required and followed home empty, 30 minutes behind Alpha Echo, as BA002P.

It had been a rollercoaster 16 months for everyone involved in Concorde, but there was no doubting it - she was back up where she belonged.