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 But by 2003, much of its technology was outdated, requiring disproportionate maintenance cost for every revenue hour flown, so its service days were numbered.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.