The Betrayal of Concorde

by Admin on February 5, 2015

According to Rob Lewis, in his book “Supersonic Secrets”, and the excellent article by Donald Pevsner, at  http://www.concorde-spirit-tours.com/concorde.htm, the decision to retire Concorde has been revealed to be a political, rather than a technical one since she was making a net profit of £30m a year before the Gonesse crash near Paris of 2000. Around that time, a retired executive of British Airways allegedly heard from a French reporter that ‘very soon’ Air France were going to ground their Concorde fleet.

At the time, Air France was gearing up for privatization. The criminal trials and huge sums in damages following the crash of Air France Airbus A320 (F-GFKC) in 1988 and Air Inter Airbus A320 (F-GGED) in 1992 still played on the mind of the bureaucratic CEO of Air France, Jean-Cyril Spinetta.

So worried was Spinetta that he secretly conspired with Noel Forgeard, another French bureaucrat and CEO of Airbus, to quietly craft a ‘face-saving’ method of prematurely retiring Concorde so that Spinetta could be protected by any personal criminal liability from possible future accidents involving an Air France Concorde.

Rob Lewis claims that Spinetta convinced Noel Forgeard to effectively prevent a Concorde monopoly in the North Atlantic region by tactically forcing British Airways to retire its own Concorde fleet.

Airbus weren’t interested in investing their costly time and labour in Concorde’s maintenance as they were producing new and more profitable subsonic jets, and preparing the massive A380 aircraft for commercial launch. Noel Forgeard himself was keen to stop the maintenance support of Concorde and reassign the personnel to other projects.

Air France and British Airways were operating a total fleet of twelve Concorde and there was no possibility of further orders. So, Forgeard was more than willing to accommodate Spinetta’s requests and subsequently hatched out a devious plan for executing their secret deal.

Unfortunately, the circumstances and events following the Concorde crash in 2000, particularly inside British Airways, significantly played into Air France’s hands. Rod Eddington, the Australian CEO of British Airways in 2003 was an enthusiastic supporter of Concorde. In fact, Concorde maintained strong support throughout British Airways, even during their days of financial hardship. However, where there had historically been strong support for Concorde within British Airway’s key departments, this support was sadly lacking after Concorde’s post-crash return to service on November 7, 2001.

As it was, it would have been very difficult for Concorde to resume its services without the support of Rod Eddington, but ultimately even Eddington’s efforts couldn’t save Concorde from the destructive onslaughts of [enter stage left] Alan MacDonald.

Director of Engineering, Alan MacDonald resented the high cost of Concorde maintenance, which appeared to put a huge hole in his overall budget, while he “never saw the profits.” Actually, British Airways Concorde charters created about 10 percent of total British Airways Concorde revenues from its fleet of five Concorde.

Alan MacDonald thus deliberately presented massively over-inflated cost statements in order to convince the senior executives and corporate planners of British Airways that it was unfeasible to operate Concorde even on a limited, chartered or exhibition flying basis. In order to justify his report on Engineering limitations and financial impact of Concorde maintenance, he allocated the entire British Airways hanger maintenance costs to the maintenance costs of the five Concorde fleet in British Airways.

Rod Eddington, the CEO of British Airways was preoccupied with rescuing British Airways from the financial crisis inherited from his predecessor, Robert Ayling and thus effectively turned a blind eye to the dubious maintenance concerns and over-inflated cost statements.

Airbus was bound by contractual provisions for providing technical support and maintenance to both Air France and British Airways, and it was not possible for Airbus to directly terminate its contract without invoking the legal proceedings under the UK Contract and Fair Trading Practices laws. So Airbus devised a cunning plan in order to escape its obligations.

Noel Forgeard, the President of Airbus substantially revised the cost of technical support to the Concorde fleet by introducing an additional cost of £40 million per year for both airlines during the subsequent two-year period. As Air France was going to quickly retire its Concorde fleet, British Airways was left to stand the entire Concorde fleet maintenance cost of both airlines.

Rod Eddington, the CEO of British Airways already spent £10 million on safety modifications during the grounding period of 2000-2001, including £2 million on new interiors for each aircraft of the Concorde fleet. When Airbus then handed over its inflated technical support bill, British Airways had to now either bear the additional £40 million or forget the eight-figure amount already spent on the luxurious new interiors and refurbishments.

On April 10, 2003, the press releases of both Air France and British Airways announced the proposed retirement of their Concorde fleet by the end of that year. As Spinetta wanted to quickly ground the Concorde fleet of Air France, its last flight was scheduled on May 31, 2003, while the last passenger flight of British Airway’s Concorde was scheduled on October 24, 2003. Both airlines mentioned that after their last passenger flight, the Concorde fleets would be loaned / given to museums for public display.

Considering the high price of Concorde tickets, British Airways had already devised a contingency marketing plan in 1988 to neutralize the effects of any possible reduction of demand from their traditional business executive clientele.
After the Gonesse crash on July 25, 2000 and the alleged terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001, the demand had reached all-time low. This contingency marketing plan focused on wealthy clientele by providing ultra-premium Concorde services, including a number of deluxe perks and limousine transport at both New York and London airports.

Spinetta was relieved when Air France quickly grounded its fleet of Concorde lanes, but British Airways went ahead with its plan to cater ‘supersonic tourists’ and earned a whopping £92 million over the next six months. British Airways was successful in operating its Concorde fleet to its full capacity, and all 100 seats in almost every flight were booked.

Noel Forgeard steadfastly refused to extend the technical support of the Concorde fleet of British Airways which ensured that both UK CAA and French DGAC would cancel the Airworthiness Certificate of Concorde fleet immediately after the last passenger flight of Concorde on October 31, 2003. Forgeard even refused to provide even minimum technical support that was required to keep at least one British Airways Concorde airworthy for flying on special occasions.

On November 15, 2003, Air France went ahead with its plan to permanently ground its Concorde fleet and auctioned the entire of Concorde spare parts to disperse the necessary parts and make it virtually impossible for any successor to fly the French Concordes.

Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Atlantic attempted to buy the Concorde fleet of British Airways several times after the official press release of its retirement on April 10, 2003. The senior executives of British Airways and Richard Branson were bitter rivals, and British Airways had no interest in seeing its flagship fleet being handed over to its fiercest competitor.

British Airways auctioned its inventory of spare parts on December 1, 2003 and April 17, 2004, with the same intention of making it impossible for Mr. Branson and ‘Save Concorde Group’ to fly British Airways Concorde fleets.

In 2003, the remaining spare parts of Concorde were sold by Airbus to Aerotheque (a not-profit French aviation organization) for the princely sum of one Euro. Aerotheque finally auctioned these spare parts during September 28 – October 1, 2007.

In 2006, it was revealed that British Airways had decided to permanently disable the fly-by-wire system of all the seven Concordes and drained their hydraulic fluid in late 2003 to ensure that the cost of making British Airways Concorde airworthy would create effective deterrence against any attempt to fly them again. Captain W.D. Lowe, the former Chief Concorde Pilot of British Airways reacted by describing it as “an amazing act of vandalism.” and added that it will take at least £15 million to restore and fly British Airways Concorde, which has no doubt escalated over time .

Unfortunately, the dispersion of Concorde spare parts through auctions have made it virtually impossible to restore any Air France or British Airways Concorde.

Concorde Collectibles was born out of the Dovebid dispersion sales of 2004. Most of the spare parts have since been sold but there are around 100 engine blades remaining in storage. They are not listed on the products page here but anyone interested in purchasing one can message me via the contact tab above.

For the full story, please read Donald Pevsner’s article here

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