The Aérospatiale/BAC Concorde was a legendary supersonic airliner that many people around the world dreamed of traveling on. Such was its appeal that this ambition was not only held by avgeeks, but also by members of the public, for whom Mach 2 flight became a bucket list item. Despite this, when the aircraft entered service, its load factors were surprisingly low. Let’s take a closer look at the numbers.
Air France does better
Despite considerable interest from airlines around the world with options for over 100 aircraft, only 14 production Concordes ended up being produced. These supersonic airliners were split equally between Air France and British Airways, with the two carriers flying seven of them. Starting with the French flag carrier, we can see that it was the top performer when it came to Concorde’s early fill factors.
Indeed, according to an article in the New York Times in May 1976, Air France was pleased with both the load factors in general, and the number of loyal customers using the aircraft. The airline launched Concorde on the Paris-Dakar-Rio de Janeiro route, with the first 32 westbound flights at an average load factor of 78%.
Eastbound traffic was somewhat lower, with load factors on flights to Paris over this period averaging 62%. Nevertheless, with an overall average of 70%, the use of the Air France Concorde has started well.
Air France’s first westbound Concorde flights were more than three-quarters full. PhotoGetty Images
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BA Concorde flights struggle to reach 50%
On the other hand, British Airways had a harder time filling the Concorde during its initial period of airline operation. Indeed, the British flag carrier, which launched the supersonic airliner on the London-Bahrain route, achieved an average load factor of just 42% on the first 25 eastbound flights. Westbound services fared better, with an average load of 52% on the return to London.
Nevertheless, with a combined figure of just 47%, BA’s first Concorde flights were on average less than half full. Interestingly, the New York Times describes these numbers as still better than expected, likely because Bahrain is not BA’s first choice for the Concorde launch. Indeed, he had wanted to deploy the jet on routes to the United States, but Congress initially prevented it for noise reasons.
Air France and British Airways were finally cleared to begin Concorde operations in Washington D.C. in May 1976, four months after the aircraft had launched on their Rio and Bahrain routes. However, these services were withdrawn by the French and British national carriers in 1982 and 1994, respectively, due to low demand. By then, New York had become the plane’s main destination.
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Break-even point reached?
In view of these relatively low load factors, it would be understandable to question the economic viability of Concorde. However, according to the New York Times, Claude Lalanne, Air France’s vice president for North America, calculated that an average of just 62% would be enough to break even.
This was based on an annual usage of 2,750 hours, compared to an average of 4,000 hours per year for Boeing 747s at the time. Another key factor in this was the relatively low cost at which Air France and British Airways were able to purchase the aircraft from their respective governments. Nonetheless, the aircraft remained in service until 2003, inspiring generations of enthusiasts along the way.
What do you think of the Concorde’s first load factors? Have you ever flown on one? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!
Source: New York Times