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Dreaming Aloud: Let's Buy Concorde...

Fri Apr 11, 2003 6:54 pm

Probably you are expecting some enthusiastic, but naive "Let's buy Concorde for 5 pounds and fly around in it hurr-di-hurr-di-hurr" thread.

Well, I'm definitely trying not to do that, because I am dead serious, but perhaps it'll come out as sounding just like that anyway.

Let me explain: Branson made a publicity-intensive, but designed-to-fail offer to buy Concorde, asking for slots and BA bookkeeping and basically just something designed to catch publicity, not any serious consideration from BA. I believe there is another way.

Concorde is a highly symbolic aircraft and achievement, and the economics of running daily flights to New York with it may be faltering simply on the grounds of costs. Filling 100 seats a day with very rich passengers is not going to be easy, and as BA are struggling with maintenance costs, that indicates the ticket price might have to be hiked up significantly to make a profit on non-100%-filled flights.

But I still believe there is a large enough market for very exclusive, high-quality premium charters. That would mean that Concorde would not be flying scheduled services ever again, but on the other hand it would still be flying, and the prices for these charters could easily be bigger than scheduled Concorde flights, as they would not be nearly as frequent and would appeal to a different kind of passenger: Wealthy leisure travellers.

So what exactly do I think to be a feasible Concorde operation? First of all, there'd have to be a separate company outside the framework of BA. Secondly, the company would not need to have 7 aircraft in a flightworthy condition at all times. 3 would be more than enough, the other 2 could be used for spares, or, for example, as a very stylish restaurant in Heathrow.

Now imagine a company with 3 flyable Concordes (and perhaps 2 stationary spares, one of which may or may not be turned into a restaurant at Heathrow airport). In what ways can they earn revenue and make the company profitable? There's the obvious one: Flights (i.e. charters) full of passengers, or perhaps the odd rich sheikh or two. Then there's the "flying billboard" one: Companies pay large amounts of money to advertise on formula 1 cars. I bellieve it would be possible to cover a substantial amount of maintenance costs by offering Concorde up for advertising (don't think of it as sacrilege, think of all the different liveries she'd have until 2009, the collector's value of her photos etc.). This could take the form of long-term full liveries, probably advertising airlines or big brands (Pepsi, Coca Cola, or Virgin, Emirates, Star Alliance, FedEx, UPS and whatnot), or it could take the form of short-term sticker based advertisement (limited to subsonic operations only). Either way, I believe Concorde is a powerful brand carrier, especially on world tours. Finally, there is the "enthusiast" way. People would pay small payments to walk around Concorde, have a look at the cockpit, sponsor Concorde (much like you can sponsor a book, or a gorilla) and have their name imprinted in a metal plaque inside the aircraft. And perhaps people would be willing to work in their free time on such a project at minimum wages, out of affection towards the aircraft.

How could such a company work?

There's two options:
Lacking capital to begin with, the first year would be a big struggle. Perhaps temporarily, BA mechanics, maintenance personnel and pilots would be asked to contribute on a volunteering basis only once or twice a week, with no or very low pay, not as full time jobs, but on weekends or in their free time. Then, after the first 1 or 2 successful, presumably largely overpriced flights, some could be hired full time. Eventually, the company would have to grow profitable and then it could grow into a business that is less based on sheer enthusiasm by its contributors, and more on business values. And the crew of full-time employees could grow with the number of organized flights.

The second option is one which involves a startup with some capital - from venture capitalists, or investments by BA or someone else. (Imagine for a moment offering BA a deal whereby 1 of the 3 flying Concordes would at all times remain in BA livery, and BA would have a 49% share in the company, with the remaining 51% divided between the Concorde personnel and other investors. Any chance BA would be willing to pay, say, $1 million or so for that, to keep Concorde flying in their livery but be rid off the losses?) Such a company could take off with more full time staff and would have a higher chance of success.

So is this just an empty soap bubble dream?

Well, I believe that some things would be necessary to make it a reality:
1) Support from the people currently involved in Concorde, and the willingness to invest time, work (and perhaps even money) into such an enterprise. In return, if such a company were successful, they could all be made shareholders and benefit from the profits of their own work.
2) A sound business study would have to be done to see whether or not all these concepts could work out. You noticed the "I believe" everywhere throughout this post - I have no numbers to back that up (yet), and therefore it would be highly necessary to actually check whether or not my "beliefs" have any foundation other than aviation enthusiasm. A study into advertisement revenuesto be expected, charter flight prices, rich people's willingness to fly Concorde etc. etc.
3) Support from BA - without their agreement, and willingness to give away Concordes nothing could work. But if they were promised to keep 1 Concorde in BA livery until 2009 (and use the others for advertisements) as well as allowing them to decide which museums would receive Concorde in 2009, I think the chances for cooperation are not zero.
4) Input. People would have to invest time, and money, and be willing to commit themselves to such a project. With "people" I mean us enthusiasts, to begin with.
5) Passengers and advertisers. It would kind of help to have some people lined up to provide either or both for the crucial first few weeks/ months....

So the question is, could we start such an effort to make a serious offer to BA (serious as in "give us Concorde, forget about the slots and your accounting"), and start a serious business in October, from within Airliners.net? Could people here contribute competent business studies? Paying a consultancy like Accenture is not really an option for an idea with no money and only enthusiasm to thrive on, so everything would have to be self-contained to begin with...

Crucially, what does GDB think and does he believe there is any chance at all, or should we just give up and go home right away?

And who would be the face of the company? Mike Bannister, the Concorde captain on TV so often, do you think there's any chance he'd be interested or willing in starting such an independent venture or would the risks be too great for any employee to bear? To be perfectly honest, as student with no full-time job it's easy for me to philosophize around and play the armchair manager, but I have no idea whether there is any interest at all on behalf of the people involved with Concorde, or anyone who has something to lose by attaching themselves to an independent company to operate Concorde.

And without any experience, it is hard to predict the risks, costs and likelihood of success. So to people with experience: What's your opinion on the feasibility?

Anyway. A final remark: I find it kind of tasteless of BA to retire Concorde in the Year of the Centennery of powered flight. I mean, that kinda ruins the celebrations!


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RE: Dreaming Aloud: Let's Buy Concorde...

Sat Apr 12, 2003 2:16 am

Just my personal opinion, but your final remark kinda kills the credibility.

BA retired Concorde as a business decision. Tastefulness wouldn't even have featured in the discussion. If you let emotion get in the way of business sense, you're going to find yourself in charge of a bankrupt operation before you even begin.
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Joined: Sun Oct 14, 2001 7:26 am

RE: Dreaming Aloud: Let's Buy Concorde...

Sat Apr 12, 2003 2:37 am


I'd suggested some kind of charity to keep at least one in airworthy condition, and use the others as a source of spares, like with the Vulcan and Victor that are kept in airworthy condition, although some stoopid CAA ruling means they are not actually allowed to fly them - saying they are too complex - even though maintained by people who once were actually paid to maintain them ???.

Volunteers give up their time to look after these old birds, so I'm sure that they would do the same for Concorde.

It would probably have to be based overseas though, to overcome the stoopid CAA rules about it being a too complex aircraft for private ownership. In South Africa, they are allowed to fly those Lightnings and Buccaneers that we are not allowed to do in the UK.

Your idea could work, but I'd be suprised if anyone actually bothered to do the research, and thats the key to any successful idea.

"She Rolls, 45 knots, 90, 135, nose comes up to 20 degrees, she's airborne - She flies, Concorde Flies"
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Joined: Wed May 23, 2001 6:25 pm

RE: Dreaming Aloud: Let's Buy Concorde...

Sat Apr 12, 2003 2:51 am

Sadly a non-starter, the expensive maint work won't go away, the costs you may have seen mentioned in the press are generally not structural/life cycle issues, rather system obsolescence and similar bits and pieces, the only flying machine more specialized and expensive for parts/mods etc is probably the Space Shuttle, (NASA even came to see how we did things back in 1997).
And it would have to be UK based.
It was tough enough to operate extended charters when we were running at full strength.
Concorde eats manhours and spares.

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