Mark Pilling/LONDON Financially, the suspension of Concorde services for Air France, and as of mid-August British Airways, is relatively insignificant. But the cost to both airlines of potentially losing such a potent marketing symbol is harder to judge.

Air France grounded its fleet of five Concordes immediately after the crash of Concorde AF4590, which happened minutes after taking off from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport on 25 July.

BA halted its Concorde operations on 15 August, following advice from the UK Civil Aviation Authority and Air Accidents Investigations Bureau after the Certificate of Airworthiness for the aircraft was suspended.

The loss of Concorde's transatlantic services to Air France and BA is relatively minor to both carriers in terms of sales and numbers of passengers carried.

Concorde operations are estimated to make up only 1% of group revenues for Air France, and 2% for BA.

BA does not release figures, but Robin Horne, analyst at HSBC Securities, estimates that Concorde generates annual sales of £100-200 million ($150-300 million) for BA, and makes an operating profit of £5 million per year.

BA's task is to persuade Concorde passengers to switch to its first class product on regular subsonic flights - something that loyalty schemes particularly help with.

If this happens, BA will make more profit because the greater operating costs of a thirsty, 100-seat Concorde, compared to Boeing 747-400s or 777s, means more profit per passenger.

In terms of transatlantic operations, Air France and BA were flying seven Concorde flights a week each between their Paris and Heathrow hubs to New York JF Kennedy Airport.

This is a small fraction of the available capacity on the North Atlantic routes. According to latest OAG data for August, Air France planned 324 weekly North Atlantic frequencies, while BA planned 606.

When Airline Business closed for press there had been no announcement on how much it would cost to modify Concorde to enable it to begin flying again. BA, however, wants the aircraft to resume operations as soon as possible. While the aircraft are on the ground it is looking at bringing forward a £14million package of improvements originally set for early next year.

The question for BA and Air France will be whether this cost, and any possible modification cost, is worth paying to put their supersonic flagships back into service.

Concorde Facts Manufacturers: British Aircraft Corp and Aerospatiale Number Built: 20 Capacity: 100 passengers First flight: 2 March 1969 Deliveries: Seven Concordes were delivered to both BA and Air France between 1975 and 1980 First commercial flight: 21 January 1976 - BA flying from London to Bahrain, and Air-France flying from Paris to Rio de Janeiro

Source: Airline Business