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Concorde not for sale, says BA

Passenger numbers have not recovered since the Air France crash.
Passenger numbers have not recovered since the Air France crash.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- British Airways have slapped a "not for sale" sign on Concorde after Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic Airways said it wanted to buy its supersonic jets for 1 ($1.57).

Virgin said it planned to ask British Airways for "full operating figures" to see if the slender needle-nosed passenger jets can be kept in the air after BA and Air France said they would retire their fleets in October because they were unprofitable to operate.

"If having examined the figures, Virgin Atlantic, with its lower cost base, believes it can make a success of it, we will be asking British Airways to give us the planes for the same price that they were given them for -- one pound,'' Chairman Richard Branson said in a statement.

But British Airways said firmly on Friday its seven Concordes were "not for sale" as the successors to the joint Anglo-French manufacturers -- Airbus -- would not allow any other airlines than BA and Air France to fly the prestigious plane.

"Concorde will have a fantastic last six months in various countries around the world," promised a BA spokesman.

Air industry analysts said the increasing maintenance cost of running the planes -- designed and built in an era before pocket calculators were common let alone personal computers and mobile phones -- made Branson's scheme a non-starter.

A spokesman for Airbus told CNN: "The age of the design, the age of the airliner and the small size of the fleet make it enormously expensive and practically very difficult to continue flying the aircraft."

BA say its jets will be given to museums.

Concorde first flew in 1969. Twenty Concordes in all were built by Airbus's predecessors, Aerospatiale of France and British Aircraft Corporation, the jet entering commercial service from 1976.

The British and French governments gave the planes away to their national carriers after spending more than $34 billion at 2003 prices on the development of the planes.

A round trip on Concorde from Paris or London to New York can cost as much as $10,000. But an economic slowdown, war and terrorism have conspired to plunge the airline industry into its worst crisis in decades.

Air France Chief Executive Jean-Cyril Spinetta said Thursday: "Recently, we were filling only about 20 percent of the seats.''

Billionaire Branson attempted to buy several of Air France's Concordes a few years ago, French newspaper Le Monde said.

Branson's Virgin Group owns 51 percent of Virgin Atlantic, with Singapore Airlines owning the balance.

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