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Last Updated: Friday, 24 October, 2003, 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK
End of an era for Concorde
Concorde at Heathrow
Concorde had a grandstand finish at Heathrow
Concorde has completed its last commercial passenger flight, ending three decades of supersonic travel.

Three flights landed at Heathrow airport within five minutes of each other, watched by thousands of onlookers on Friday afternoon.

The last transatlantic flight carried 100 celebrities from New York and touched down at 1605 BST.

On disembarking, actress Joan Collins said there were "cheers and tears" among the passengers when the plane landed.

Minutes before the transatlantic trip touched down, competition winners landed on a flight from Edinburgh and a third completed its trip for invited guests around the Bay of Biscay.

British Airways decided to retire the famous aircraft after 27 years because it was no longer profitable.

Airport operator BAA built a 1,000-seat grandstand for spectators and many arrived at Heathrow hours before Concorde was due to arrive.

Departure from New York 0735 (1235 BST)
Planes from New York, Edinburgh and one that has completed a loop over the Atlantic arrive in Heathrow 1600 BST
Ceremony with British Airways staff

John Cowburn, 39, from Basingstoke, equipped with a ladder to get a good view, has seen it in action 25 times.

He said: "Today is a very sad day but we must make the most of it. Concorde is potentially the most special thing man has ever built."

There was also an emotional goodbye on the other side of the Atlantic.

Water cannon sprayed the Concorde with jets of red, white and blue water to evoke the colours of the British, American and French flags in a symbolic farewell on the runway at John F Kennedy airport.

Before entering the Concorde cockpit for the last time, Captain Mike Bannister said he was "proud and privileged" to fly the plane back from New York.

"What we have tried to do is to make the retirement of Concorde a celebration - something that both the public and the airline can look back at with pride.

Spectators at Howard Beach

"When I power the engines for the last time at Heathrow I shall be thinking of all the people in BA who've kept this plane flying successfully for 27 years," he said.

The New York flight left at at 1235 BST, another left Edinburgh at 1420 BST and a third began a loop of the Bay of Biscay a few minutes later.

Earlier, the first of the planes departed from Heathrow at 1035 BST for a flight to Edinburgh, where it landed at noon before leaving again for its final journey.

Actress Joan Collins, who has flown Concorde about 10 times and is on board the flight from New York, said the end of the era was "tragic".

"The first time I ever flew Concorde was a bit of a white knuckle ride. I am more used to it now, it's so wonderful to make the journey in three and a half hours," she said as she boarded the plane.

'Speed freak'

British broadcaster and frequent flyer Sir David Frost said he had lost count of the number of times he had been on Concorde - "somewhere between 300 and 500, I think."

Jodie Kidd and Jeremy Clarkson before boarding
The passenger list for Concorde's final flight from New York includes:
Model Jodie Kidd (pictured with broadcaster Jeremy Clarkson before boarding)
Broadcaster Sir David Frost
Actress Joan Collins
Politician Tony Benn
Former US model Christie Brinkley
Formula 1 chief Bernie Ecclestone
Stock exchange chairman Chris Gibson-Smith
British Airways chairman Lord Marshall

Model Jodie Kidd, checking into the flight, said: "I always really love the rush of takeoff. I am just a speed freak."

British Airways chief executive officer Rod Eddington said there was a "mixture of sadness and celebration" about the retirement.

"It is a wonderful plane, an icon, but its time has come. It's an old plane - it doesn't look it - but it was designed in the 50s and built in the 60s," he told BBC One's Breakfast.

In 1956, Britain and France began working separately on an aircraft that would fly at twice the speed of sound.

BA and Air France made a joint announcement on the retirement in April and the French Concorde's final flight was in May.

Concorde never recovered after a horrific crash near Paris Charles de Gaulle airport three years ago, in which 113 people died.

Click here to view Concorde landing at Heathrow

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