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Virgin Bid to Acquire Concorde Won't Fly

British Airways says it will reject the offer to keep the supersonic aircraft in service.

June 23, 2003|From Times Wire Services

British Airways, the airline retiring its supersonic Concorde fleet in October, said Sunday that it would reject an offer of $8.3 million for the five operational aircraft from Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd.

"The aircraft are not for sale," British Airways spokeswoman Jo Devereux said. "We're clear that Concorde will not fly commercially beyond 2003."

Earlier Sunday, a spokesman for London-based Virgin Atlantic said Branson made the $8.3-million bid, a huge increase from his previous offer of just $8.30.

"We have operators ready to help us keep it flying and [it] would serve New York, Barbados and Dubai, a new destination for the plane," Branson said in a statement.

A joint British-French venture, the Concorde first took off in 1969 and can fly at twice the speed of sound, or about 1,300 miles per hour.

But despite cutting transatlantic journeys to three hours, the high-priced service has seen demand fall in recent years, while the costs of operating the fleet have sharply risen.

The famous hooked-nosed jet also was dealt a heavy blow in 2000 by a crash shortly after takeoff in Paris that killed 113 people. The planes were grounded for more than a year afterward.

Air France, the only other airline to fly the Concorde, stopped making commercial flights last month.

British Airways opposes Branson's offer because it may lose existing Concorde passengers, said Paul Moore, a spokesman for Virgin Atlantic.

"We're confident there is a commercial future for the aircraft," Moore said. "We still think we can operate Concorde at a profit."

Virgin said that if the rejection is final, it would ask British Airways to join it in forming a charitable trust that would keep at least two of the supersonic planes in semi-commercial service. Virgin pledged to donate $1.66 million toward the trust.

But British Airways was standing firm.

"As the aircraft gets older it costs more and more to maintain, and therefore it's just not viable," spokeswoman Devereux said.

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Bloomberg News and Reuters were used in compiling this report.

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