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France, Britain to end Concorde flights

By
ELIZABETH BRYANT

PARIS, April 10 (UPI) -- Air France and British Airways announced Thursday the retirement of their Concorde fleets by the end of the year, ending more than three decades of luxury travel.

In a statement, Air France said its last supersonic flights would be May 31. The airline cited a steep decline in business and increased maintenance costs for its decision.

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"It's with regret Air France has taken the decision to stop the use of Concorde," said Jean-Cyril Spinetta, president and director general of Air France. "But the choice was necessary."

British Airways said it would cease flying its supersonic jets in the fall because of "commercial reasons, with passenger revenue falling steadily against a backdrop of rising maintenance costs for aircraft."

The airline said it had decided that such an investment couldn't be justified in the face of falling revenue caused by a global downturn in demand for all forms of premium travel in the airline industry.

"Concorde has served us well and we are extremely proud to have flown this marvelous and unique aircraft for the past 27 years," said Rod Eddington, BA's chief executive. "This is the end of a fantastic era in world aviation, but bringing forward Concorde's retirement is a prudent business decision at a time when we are having to make difficult decisions right across the airline."

The demise of the Concorde closes a proud chapter of British and French aviation history that began with the first flights of the supersonic jet, nearly four decades ago.

With London-to-New York flights taking less than 3 1/2 hours, and menus concocted by such legendary chefs as Alain Ducasse, the jet was considered de rigeur for the wealthy and business elite.

In July 2000, both companies grounded their fleets following a crash of an Air France Concorde shortly taking off from Charles de Gaulle airport, near Paris. All 109 people aboard the flight died in the crash along with four people on the ground.

But in 2001, the Concorde returned to the skies, its inaugural flight from Paris booked solid with celebrities and politicians.

Business, however, has dropped recently for Air France, which is expected to be fully privatized in the coming months. Passenger figures in March were down nearly 2 percent from the previous month.

British Airways also cited a drop in passenger capacity, down 3.1 percent. Both companies attributed the most recent drop to the conflict in Iraq.

The British airline announced a special deal for Concordes in the coming months -- with a one-way flight costing just $3,118, $5,458 for first class.

After its retirement, BA said, the Concorde would remain more widely accessible to less wealthy passengers -- who would be able to view the jet in British museums.

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