Aircraft: Final Boarding Call
“I’ll miss Concorde,” says Kevin Roberts, CEO worldwide of ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi. “Speed is everything today, and Concorde gives you an extra day a week. I work in New York for a French company based in Paris with a key agency in London. Concorde was meant for me. It gives me a big-time competitive advantage.”
When British Airways terminates its Concorde service in October, Roberts and other loyalists will have to find alternative means of high-speed transportation across the Atlantic. Roberts plans to travel first class aboard British Airways and Air France, but a Boeing 747 takes more than seven hours to fly from London’s Heathrow Airport to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport (and nearly eight hours from Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport); Concorde, meanwhile, cruising at 1,350 mph, can complete the London–to–New York leg in just 3 hours and 20 minutes.
There are other options for completing the crossing that are considerably quicker than a 747. Each is available through outright ownership, fractional ownership, or chartering. The fastest business jet is Cessna’s eight-person Citation X, which, cruising at 590 mph, can hustle from JFK to Heathrow in approximately six hours. Because of headwinds, the Citation X requires a fuel stop (typically in Reykjavik or Newfoundland’s Gander International Airport) when flying west. The Boeing Business Jet, Gulfstream V, and Dassault Falcon 900EX can fly nonstop over the ocean.
Fliers can make up some of the difference between a Concorde flight and a business jet flight on other legs of their journeys. For example, heads of state and other high-profile clients of Gold Air International, a charter company, can arrange for airside transfers in London: Fliers step off the plane and into a waiting helicopter, eliminating any time that would have been wasted in the terminal.
Helicopter transfers can also eliminate unnecessary delays in tunnel, bridge, or airport traffic. Depending on the provider, a helicopter ride from New York’s East 34th Street heliport to JFK can take six to eight minutes. Similar helicopter service is available between Heathrow and Battersea Heliport in London.
Next to helicopter transfers, the most significant time-saver is often the airport itself. Concorde was limited to three: JFK, Heathrow, and Charles de Gaulle, which are all congested international destinations. Conversely, private travel allows for flights between smaller, user-friendly airports. In England, London City Airport is convenient—located just six miles from the business district—but because of the airport’s short runway, the Falcon 900EX is the only long-distance business jet allowed to use LCY. Otherwise, Northolt, an active Royal Air Force base, is the preferred private jet destination.
Stateside, New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport and Morristown Municipal Airport, and New York’s Westchester County Airport, are much easier to negotiate than JFK. In Paris, “not a single NetJets owner on his deathbed would choose Charles de Gaulle over Le Bourget,” says Charles McLean, NetJets director of communications and public affairs. “You can waste hours in rush-hour traffic.”
With the fastest private jets, helicopter shuttles, and convenient airports, travelers can shorten the length of transatlantic flights, but they will never be able to replicate the unique experience of belonging to the exclusive Concorde community. “Where else,” asks Farnborough Aircraft Chairman Andrew Taee, who has flown Concorde hundreds of times, “could you get a three-hour audience with Margaret Thatcher?”