10/23/2003: Concorde Makes Final London-NYC Flight

Today in 2003, Concorde Speedbird 001 departed London Heathrow Airport for the last time, bound for New York's JFK Airport.

Helwing

Villamizar

October 23, 2023

DALLAS — Today in Aviation, Concorde Speedbird 001 departed London Heathrow (LHR) for the last time, bound for New York's JFK Airport in 2003.

By then, BA had flown more than 2.5 million passengers on its Concorde fleet of seven. The airline operated scheduled services primarily to New York but also to Barbados, Bahrain, Dallas-Fort Worth, Miami, Singapore, and Washington. It also operated charter flights to more than 250 destinations worldwide, including annual flights to Lapland.

The first Concorde to land at JFK on October 19, 1977, was the French-registered Concorde F-WTSB, received by journalists, mixed-mood spectators, and Port Authority officials after the US lifted a ban on the aircraft. BA operated Concorde on flights BA 001 and BA 002 to/from JFK, departing LHR at 10:30 a.m. and arriving at 9:30 a.m. local time in New York.

You can hear below the audio from the ATC as Speedbird 001 departs for the last time from LHR. "London frequency: 1 3 2 decimal 905. Have a good trip, and bye-bye. 1 3 2 decimal 906...it was a pleasure." One YT commentator notes, "Beautiful, beautiful machine. So gutted it’s gone. Every ATC at the end is all so sad to see it go as it just resonates beyond belief."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4B1BNPJ6_O8

Concorde's last departure from London Heathrow ATC Audio.

The Last Departure from JFK to London Heathrow

The next day, the supersonic Concorde jet made its last commercial passenger flight from JFK to LHR. The BA flight transported 100 passengers, including the late Sir David Frost, actress Joan Collins, model Christie Brinkley, and an Ohio couple who allegedly charged US$60,000 on eBay for two tickets (a roundtrip trans-Atlantic fare normally costs around US$9,000).

As The Guardian reported in 2003, only on Concorde was Paul McCartney able to lead the passengers in the impromptu singing of Beatles' songs. Only via Concorde could Phil Collins have performed in London and Philadelphia on the same day as part of the Live Aid concert.

Rock stars, musicians, captains of industry, and political leaders were the epitomes of Concorde. It was the transatlantic shuttle of the financial elite.

In the end, Concorde’s exclusive club of regular patrons gathered in the Concorde Room at New York JFK for Concorde’s final scheduled commercial flight. According to history.com, after a farewell speech from Concorde Captain Mike Bannister, they boarded BA2, bound for LHR for the last time.

A huge crowd of spectators awaited the arrival of the plane in London, which coincided with two more final Concorde flights from Edinburgh and the Bay of Biscay.

External view of Concorde's fuselage. Photo: By Christian Kath - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=834006

The First Lady of Aviation

Concorde became a symbol of speed and luxury, even though it was not without its problems. Some of those who lived on its flight path criticized the tremendous noise it made. Sadly, on July 25, 2000, the Air France (AF) jet crashed after taking off from Paris, and 113 people died. All Concorde flights were grounded more than a year after the incident.

Citing growing running costs and decreased ticket sales, BA removed its Concorde fleet in October 2003 after 27 years with the carrier. AF, the only other Concorde airline, permanently grounded its aircraft in May of that same year.

However, the charm of Concorde was so strong that when airlines auctioned off spare parts from their fleets shortly after their retirement, many of the pieces sold for much more than their suggested price. For example, a blanket worth US$100 was sold for US$2,000, a door was sold for US$33,000, and a needle nose was sold for US$550,000.

A Concorde is now stationary at LHR. Its delta wings and imposing needle nose still turn heads. The other six BA Concorde aircraft are positioned around the world for visitors, including at Aerospace Bristol, Manchester Airport, The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum New York, The Museum Of Flight Seattle, and The National Museum Of Flight Scotland, according to londonairtravel.com.

Feature image: British Airways Concorde G-BOAD. Photo: Rob Young from the United Kingdom, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons