Con­corde con­fu­sion?

Pilot - - AIRMAIL -

An in­ter­est­ing if some­what ill-re­searched piece by Pat Malone in Oc­to­ber’s Pi­lot with his views on Con­corde. Most would ac­knowl­edge that Con­corde was an iconic, su­perb tech­ni­cal and en­gi­neer­ing achieve­ment that paved the way for the highly suc­cess­ful in­ter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tive aero­space pro­gramme that is at the heart of Air­bus. But few would recog­nise his as­ser­tion that ‘Bri­tish Air­ways had run Con­corde at a fat profit — in some years its re­turns had out­per­formed the rest of the air­line put to­gether.’

BA had two main Con­corde routes, New York and Wash­ing­ton, with sea­sonal ser­vices to Bar­ba­dos and oc­ca­sional Bay of Bis­cay char­ters, all op­er­ated by a fleet of seven 100-seat air­craft at very low lev­els of air­craft util­i­sa­tion. Even with­out know­ing the his­tory of the de­vel­op­ment, cost over­runs and pro­gramme cut­backs, Mr Malone could have checked on the web for back­ground on Con­corde’s du­bi­ous eco­nomic per­for­mance and lack of sus­tain­able mar­kets for its oper­a­tion. Not least due to the prob­lem of its noise and sonic boom.

Its sig­nif­i­cant cap­i­tal and de­vel­op­ment costs to BA were writ­ten off by gov­ern­ment, even though BA was by then a pri­vate com­pany. So to make a con­tri­bu­tion to over­all com­pany net rev­enues, BA only had to cover Con­corde’s di­rect op­er­at­ing costs: fuel, en route charges, land­ing, han­dling, cater­ing etc, plus fixed crew, en­gi­neer­ing, in­sur­ance and other over­heads. Even with that heavy Gov­ern­ment sub­sidy, it is un­likely whether Con­corde, de­signed around $1 a bar­rel fuel, could make any real con­tri­bu­tion to BA with fuel at $40 a bar­rel and peak­ing at over $100.

Con­corde was a su­perb loss-lead­ing ad­ver­tis­ing tool for BA, and tes­ta­ment to the crews and en­gi­neers who kept her fly­ing safely. But by 2003, much of its tech­nol­ogy was out­dated, re­quir­ing dis­pro­por­tion­ate main­te­nance cost for ev­ery rev­enue hour flown, so its ser­vice days were num­bered. Let’s recog­nise Con­corde’s, the UK’S and France’s unique tech­ni­cal achieve­ment but don’t be de­luded by any no­tion of its eco­nomic per­for­mance. He should also note that ex­am­ples of Con­corde are well pre­served in ex­cel­lent mu­se­ums in Fil­ton, Manch­ester and Yeovil­ton. Lau­rie Price, Hor­sham Pat Malone re­sponds: Ill-re­searched? Per­haps in­stead of con­sult­ing the in­ter­net for non-per­ti­nent data Mr Price should talk to those di­rectly in­volved at the high­est level. The de­vel­op­ment costs of Con­corde, and the gov­ern­ment’s treat­ment of them, were im­ma­te­rial to BA, and it is mis­lead­ing to con­flate them with the prof­its made by the air­line; you might as well say Emi­rates can never make a profit from the A380 be­cause its de­vel­op­ment costs will never be paid back. An in­spired team at BA, led by men like Jock Lowe and Mike Ban­nis­ter, turned Con­corde into a cash cow for the air­line, and in sev­eral years the Con­corde di­vi­sion was BA’S best per­former. My ar­ti­cle was en­tirely cor­rect, and Mr Price’s per­sonal slights on me are mis­placed.

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