The air race is not to the swift

Concorde could face an uphill struggle to regain consumer confidence following last year’s crash if its relaunch goes ahead later this year.

The Anglo-French supersonic jet – developed in partnership between British Airways and Air France, and now modified to overcome the intrinsic design fault which led to the crash, and the deaths of 113 people – is undergoing tests before being given the all-clear for take-off.

BA is certainly not taking any chances in getting the super-rich and top executive business travellers back on board: it is appointing a dedicated marketing team for the relaunch.

The team is no doubt already poring over Concorde’s old regular-flyer list and sounding out former passengers over any anxieties they may have about returning to the supersonic jet.

It can almost be taken for granted that celebrities long-associated with the supersonic plane are being recruited to front a publicity campaign or to take part in a maiden voyage. The press pack is also likely to be given a free trip in a bid to conjure up columns upon columns of positive PR and offset the horror story of last year.

One of the greatest hurdles will be luring back the business travellers who were once prepared to pay for the three-hour time saving in crossing the Atlantic. Finance departments, conscious of a possible economic downturn, may now refuse to sanction supersonic travel. Questions will no doubt be asked: business was unaffected using other cheaper and slower forms of air travel, so why switch back to Concorde?

Initial price incentives to fly Concorde could well be on BA’s marketing agenda. But these will not last forever, as BA wants a return to the days when Concorde was a guaranteed money-making machine, bringing in as much as &£20m in profit.

So far BA has spent &£17m rectifying the design fault that led to the accident and &£14m in refurbishing Concorde’s interior. Millions more will be spent on marketing the plane’s return to the skies, when and if that happens.

Will the gamble be worth it? Every plane model has a natural lifespan. And even before the unexpected termination of Concorde’s service a debate was raging over its future. But Concorde, which was launched in 1976, is at an advantage: the cost of developing a replacement form of supersonic transport is almost prohibitive. If Concorde returns to the skies and makes a profit, the chances are it will fly on until another disaster, its replacement by a faster form of travel or the complete obsolescence of its technology.

For every month that goes by – airborne or not – BA’s accountants will be accessing Concorde’s true value.

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