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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 May, 2003, 18:53 GMT 19:53 UK
Branson's Concorde bid rejected

By Simon Montague
BBC Transport Correspondent

Concorde taking off
Concorde is due to be grounded in October

Virgin airline boss Sir Richard Branson has failed to win government support for his bid to buy Concorde from British Airways (BA).

Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt is writing to Sir Richard to tell him there are no grounds for ministers to intervene.

BA is stopping the supersonic service from October because it says it is no longer profitable.

Sir Richard, owner of Virgin Atlantic, said he believed his company could make Concorde a success.

But in a letter Ms Hewitt said: "It is not for the government to make a decision on either the cessation of Concorde services or the disposal of the aircraft concerned."

The trade secretary's decision to step back from the row between Virgin and BA follows conversations with both Sir Richard and BA chairman Lord Marshall.

Critical clause

Virgin has demanded to see Concorde's financial figures, but BA has maintained the aircraft were not for sale.

Ms Hewitt had raised Virgin's hopes on Monday, when she told BBC Radio 4's Westminster Hour she would be "very interested" in looking at any proposition from Virgin.

Virgin's bid for Concorde has been resting on a deal signed in the 1980s, when BA was privatised.

It is not for the government to make a decision on either the cessation of Concorde services or the disposal of the aircraft concerned
Patricia Hewitt

Sir Richard has claimed the agreement contains a clause saying if BA no longer wanted Concorde, then another British airline should be allowed to operate the supersonic fleet, which was developed with billions of pounds of taxpayers money.

Government officials are understood to have found no sign of the critical clause.

Sir Richard has also argued that under an Anglo-French treaty signed in 1962, the aircraft manufacturer Airbus has an obligation to maintain the fleet.

Airbus has said it would not support Concorde beyond the October retirement date set by BA.

Sir Richard had told a press conference at Gatwick airport he hoped to hold talks with Ms Hewitt to ask for government intervention to prevent BA selling off the aircraft to museums and private firms.

He held out the possibility of an alliance between his group, BA and Air France.

Virgin's plan would be to introduce a standard class fare, cheaper than current prices, but with first class becoming more expensive.

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