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A Look At Concorde’s Early Load Factors

The Aérospatiale/BAC Concorde was a legendary supersonic airliner that many people all around the world dreamed of traveling on. Such was its allure that this ambition wasn’t just 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 figures.

Air France performed better

Despite extensive interest from airlines worldwide with options for more than 100 aircraft, only 14 production Concordes ended up being produced. These supersonic airliners were split evenly between Air France and British Airways, with both carriers flying seven examples. Starting with the French flag carrier, we can see that it was the best performer when it came to Concorde’s early load factors.

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Indeed, according to an article by the New York Times in May 1976, Air France was pleased by both the load factors in general, and the number of repeat customers using the aircraft. The airline launched Concorde on the Paris-Dakar-Rio de Janeiro route, with the first 32 westbound flights averaging a 78% load factor.

Traffic in the eastbound direction was somewhat lower, with load factors on Paris-bound flights into this period averaging out at 62%. Nonetheless, with an overall average of 70%, Air France’s Concorde usage got off to a good start.

Air France’s initial westbound Concorde flights were more than three-quarters full. PhotoGetty Images

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BA’s Concorde flights struggled to reach 50%

On the other hand, British Airways had a harder time filling Concorde during its initial period of operations at the airline. Indeed, the UK 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 loading of 52% when traveling back to London.

Nonetheless, with a combined figure of just 47%, BA’s early Concorde flights worked out less than half-full on average. Interestingly, the New York Times describes these figures as still being better than expected, likely due to Bahrain not being BA’s first choice for launching Concorde. Indeed, it had wanted to deploy the jet on US-bound routes, but Congress initially prevented this on noise grounds.

Air France and British Airways were eventually permitted to commence Concorde operations to Washington DC in May 1976, four months after launching the aircraft on their Rio and Bahrain routes. However, these services were axed by the French and British flag carriers in 1982 and 1994, respectively, due to low demand. By then, New York had become the aircraft’s main destination.

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Break even?

Looking at these comparatively low load factors, it would be understandable to call the economic viability of Concorde into question. However, according to the New York Times, Claude Lalanne, Air France’s Senior Vice President for North America, calculated that an average of just 62% would be enough to break even.

This was based on annual usage of 2,750 hours, compared to the 4,000 hours a year averaged by Boeing 747s at the time. Another key factor in this was the comparatively low cost for 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 make of Concorde’s early load factors? Did you ever fly on one? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

Source: New York Times

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