Boom to bust for a supersonic icon


By TAN KAH PENG

JOAN Collins, Sir Elton John and the Duchess of York were among the most devoted of the “supersonic celebrities” but the Concorde age boom has now gone bust. 

After some 27 years of flying passengers to New York in three hours and 20 minutes at 1,300mph, more than twice the speed of sound, Concorde is retiring for want of clientele. 

There are just not enough passengers to keep the Anglo-French romance going. 

The fare at £8,332 plus £64.70 in tax for a trip from London to New York may be a factor in these hard times. 

Apart from the “supersonic celebrities,” the pin-striped gentlemen of the Square Mile were among the fan club, but no more – not when the banks have written off Concorde out of their travel budgets. 

Just to keep its fleet afloat, British Airways would need to spend £40mil over two years at a time when Concorde has not totally recovered from the Air France crash in Paris in July 2000. 

BA, like the rest of its rivals, is being buffeted by turbulent weather in the business world in which the industry is losing some US$30bil a year. From the war in Iraq and the SARS virus, add another US$10bil this year. 

So BA’s seven Concordes will be museum pieces in Britain and the US when they are grounded in October after the company rejected offers of talks from other airlines to keep the supersonic jet flying. 

Sir Richard Branson of rival Virgin Airlines offered to buy BA’s fleet for £1, the amount it paid to the British and French governments after they wrote off £1bil in development costs. 

To the Virgin boss, the Concorde is an important symbol of British innovation worth keeping, but to BA, his offer is seen as “a typical Branson stunt.” 

Still, there are many fans left as there was a rush for seats – British Airways sold more than 1,000 Concorde tickets, 20 times more than on normal days – when it had been struggling, like Air France, to fill the 100 seats. 

For Tony Anderson, 70, the demise of the Concorde is another story altogether. 

Since BA began its first regular Concorde flight on Jan 21, 1976, Anderson, then 43 years ago, had to put up with the supersonic boom from his Windsor home. 

Things will be a bit quieter from May. 

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