The legendary Aérospatiale/BAC Concorde made the dream of commercial supersonic flight a reality between 1976 and 2003. However, this awe-inspiring aircraft only ever had two operators. These were Air France and British Airways, each of which operated seven of the Mach 2-capable jets. That being said, several other carriers did have non-binding ‘option’ orders for the type, including Air India. Let’s take a look at when and why it canceled these.
One of 18 interested parties
In October 2019, Simple Flying took a look at the various airlines that placed options for Concorde during the 1960s and ’70s. In total, 18 airlines registered their interest, with their options adding up to nearly 100 aircraft. Of course, only Air France and BA actually ended up flying the type, but it certainly makes you consider what could have been.
These airlines each had options for between two and six aircraft. Eventual operators Air France and BA (BOAC at the time) were at the upper end of this scale, with six aircraft ordered by each of them in June 1963. Pan Am also ordered six Concordes at this time, but canceled a decade later. Air France and BA received their seventh Concordes in the 1980s.
The airlines at the lower end of this scale, with two or three orders, had an incredibly diverse geographical spread. They included Air India, Braniff, CAAC, Continental Airlines, JAL, Lufthansa, and Sabena. Iran Air even placed a two-aircraft firm order, with one option.
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Air India’s order
Along with former Belgian national airlines Sabena, Air India had the joint-smallest Concorde order. Indeed, it placed just two options for the supersonic jetliner, doing so on July 15th, 1964. This made it the ninth of the 18 airlines chronologically to place its options.
As part of the aircraft’s extensive marketing drive, prototype Concordes were sent on round-the-world sales tours. One of these took place in June 1972, using Concorde 002, built by BAC in Filton, Bristol. The aircraft, which also became the first Concorde to visit the US in 1973, flew 39,000 NM (72,000 km) around 10 Asian and Middle Eastern countries.
Not taken up
Part of this tour took Concorde to Mumbai, India’s second-busiest airport after Delhi. Here, The Times Of India reports that it landed to “loud applause from [an] excited reception committee” in monsoon conditions. As well as showcasing the jet, the Concorde team also hoped that its visit would help persuade Air India to convert its options to firm orders.
However, the airline could not be persuaded to do so, with negotiations concluding in a matter of hours. The Times Of India observed that, while the airline marveled at the technology of Concorde, it was uncertain regarding its longer-term economic prospects. With the benefit of hindsight, an Air India official later commented that:
“If the airline had bought the Concorde, [it] would have gone into the red several years ago.”
Of course, this proved an astute observation. Indeed, when Air France and BA eventually had to retire their Concordes in 2003, financial aspects played a key role in this decision. As for Air India, it eventually elected to cancel its two options for Concorde in February 1975.
Did you know about Air India’s Concorde options? Would you have liked to have seen the airline fly the legendary supersonic jetliner? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.