LONDON - Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. Chairman Richard Branson plans to meet with plane maker Airbus SAS on May 22 to discuss resuming operation of the Concordes after British Airways PLC retires the planes in October.
British Airways Chief Executive Rod Eddington said he decided to retire its fleet of seven supersonic jetliners amid a slump in demand and soaring maintenance costs and after Airbus, which services the planes, indicated it would cancel the aircraft's air-worthiness certification.
"Richard will be meeting with a team from Airbus," said Virgin Group spokesman Will Whitehorn. "The indications so far are that Concorde is viable. Airbus were enthusiastic to work with us. We are one of their biggest customers."
Eddington has dismissed calls from Branson to be allowed to buy British Airways' fleet of seven Concordes for 1 pound ($1.60) and take over the planes' takeoff and landing slots at London Heathrow airport. The jets are too expensive to continue operating, the chief executive has said.
"Airbus has said they will withdraw the plane's operating certificate," Eddington said on the British Broadcasting Corp.'s Question Time show. "It is not viable for us, neither is it viable for Airbus. The airplane, sadly, must retire."
Eddington reiterated that the aircraft had become too expensive to fly after a decline in demand from corporate customers and that he won't sell the planes to Branson.
British Airways plans to stop flying Concordes in October after 27 years of commercial service. Air France SA has said it will stop flying its fleet of five planes at the end of May.
Concorde, whose globe-trotting passengers have included former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, golfer Tiger Woods and rock star Mick Jagger, has suffered from slowing economies since it resumed flying in November 2001 after an Air France crash in July 2000. Seventy percent of the passengers are business travelers, Eddington said.
The planes, which cross the Atlantic at twice the speed of sound in three hours, likely will end up in museums because their maintenance costs would be too much for another airline or individual, the carriers have said.
Virgin Atlantic wants to operate a reduced two-class service with part of British Airways' Concorde fleet, using the rest of the planes for spare parts, Whitehorn said. "We believe it could pay for itself," he said.
Branson said he plans to meet with British Department of Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt in the next two weeks to discuss his plan to take over Concorde operation.
Airbus spokesmen didn't return calls seeking comment.