MIAMI- ‘Speedbird Concorde 1’, a callsign that is recognized throughout global aviation. Over the years, it has been associated with British Airways (BA) and its Concorde service to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) from London Heathrow (LHR).

According to flagshipflights.com, The “Speedbird” call sign comes from BOAC, which inherited it from Imperial Airways. It was the name for the airline’s emblem, which has now ended up being the BA logo, known as the ‘Speedmarque’, after several iterations.

Until its retirement in 2003, Concorde was such a unique aircraft that it had its name appended to the normal BA callsign for starters. BA even paid extra for her to skip the queue at LHR and JFK.

A British Airways Concorde departing London’s Heathrow Airport. Photo: British Airways

A One of a Kind Aircraft


BA1 was BA’s and Concorde’s flagship flight. Departing at 10.30 am from LHR each weekday morning and arriving into New York around 8.30 am the same day.

It was the aircraft everyone wanted to fly on, and the aircraft almost every pilot wishes they had the chance to fly. Reaching speeds of twice the speed of sound (Mach 2.0) and flying higher than any other commercial aircraft (60,000ft), Concorde was in a class of its own.

British Airways was the first airline in the world to take delivery of the specially modified A318 with “steep approach” capability enabling it to land and take off at steeper than usual gradients, like those at London City airport. The aircraft are specially equipped to allow customers to work during the flight on email, the internet, and text on their mobile phones, making British Airways the first carrier across the Atlantic to offer this service. Photo: British Airways.

2009-2020


The iconic ‘Speedbird 1’ callsign was assigned to their quirky little A318 aircraft since its introduction to the BA fleet in 2009. BA had a total of two in the fleet, and they operated differently from the rest.

British Airways’ A318 aircraft were unique to the company in that they comprised an all-business class configuration. The types offered 32 flatbed seats from the heart of London, and BA01 had a new look with a difference; it needed a light load.

London City Airport. Photo: Frans Zwart (GFDL 1.2 http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html or GFDL 1.2 http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html), via Wikimedia Commons

London City Airport


Located just a couple of miles from London’s famous Canary Wharf, London City Airport (LCY) offered a chance for business travelers to skip the often lengthy commute across LHR and fly from their doorsteps.

According to London City’s passenger profiles, LCY is mostly used by wealthy travelers. 41% of the people going through the airport are either chairpersons, MDs, or other senior employees. The average salary of somebody using LCY is between €115,000 and $150,000 a year.

LONDON,UK. 10th Jul 2020. London City Airport restarts European flying to Europe. © Andrew Baker 079770743567 PR HAND OUT

An Intimate Flight


London City Airport has been a regular winner as UK’s best airport. BA1 also offered a new travel experience for transatlantic passengers from the UK, as the flight operated via Shannon Airport (SNN) in Ireland. Here, the aircraft would refuel, passengers would disembark and clear US customs, allowing them to arrive at a domestic terminal once stateside. This was a large hit with premium travelers.

For pilots, LCY was a challenging “Captain’s only” approach, offering a short runway, steeper than normal glide path, and water at either end; for passengers, it was a small, intimate terminal offering quick and seamless security and check-in. It is safe to say both passengers and crew enjoyed spectacular views on both arrival and departure into the airport.

The End of an Era


Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen BA retire its magnificent Boeing 747 fleet, and now, its A318 aircraft. BA1 is for now unassigned to a route.

The pandemic forced BA to cease flight operations between LCY and JFK in March 2020. In July, it was decided to definitively ax the route. The only remaining A318 (pictured above) was then flown to Madrid for storage.

Twente Airport reports that the aircraft has come to Twente for decommissioning by AELS. G-EUNA arrived at Twente Airport (ENS) in the Netherlands on February 17, 2021.

Alas, it is another sad day for British aviation in what has been a seriously challenging 12 months for the industry. BA has not announced any plans to assign this flight number to another route as of yet—only time will tell.

The airline’s focus at present is to come out the other side of the pandemic. Hopefully, we will see the return of this iconic flight number in the future, but for now, it remains without a route.


Featured image: British Airways G-EUNA Airbus A318-112. Photo: Luca Flores/Airways