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Mon, Nov 17, 2003 - Page 12 News List

Concorde's customers snap up memorabilia


Francois Curiel, chairman of Christie's Europe, auctions parts of an Air France Concorde next to a replica of the famous supersonic plane in Paris on Saturday.


The nosecone of a Concorde airplane fetched US$490,000 at an Air France SA auction of the supersonic's parts in Paris.

The 4m cone, which brought the highest price at the auction, had a pre-sale estimate of US$12,000 to US$17,000, according to Christie's International Plc's catalog. Most of the parts sold for several times their estimates as 1,300 bidders spread across three rooms aimed to take home a piece of the aircraft.

The identity of the winning bidder for the nosecone wasn't immediately available.

British Airways Plc, Europe's largest airline, and Air France, the second biggest, stopped Concorde flights as passenger traffic fell and costs rose. The plane burned twice as much fuel as a Boeing 747.

"It is a wonderful machine and a wonderful story," said Pascal Leborgne, chief executive of PLB Organization, which runs seminars for the pharmaceutical industry. "I'm buying items that were in contact with the crew since my best memories are the relationships I built with the staff."

Leborgne, who took more than 400 trips on Concorde, making him the most frequent flyer on the Air France plane, bought several gauges and paid US$94,000 for the in-cabin speed indicator that would flash the Mach 2.02 cruising velocity.

"I'm very happy to see the success this sale has had with the public and I think we will always remember the Concorde," said Air France Chief Executive Jean-Cyril Spinetta, seated in the front row of the main auction room.

Funds raised from the auction are earmarked for the Air France Foundation, which provides grants to schools and hospitals, and supports projects aimed at helping child victims of conflict, illness and poverty.

British Airways will hold an auction of Concorde memorabilia on Dec. 1, to be conducted by Bonhams, the London-based auction house. Buyers will be able to view the rival nose cone and cutlery there beginning Nov. 29.

At Air France, Concorde operations resulted in a loss of 50 million euros (US$59 million) in the year to March 31, the company said in April. British Airways took a charge of ?84 million to write off costs relating to the retirement.

For pilots, engineers and aviation fans, the airplane's appeal is untainted by commercial difficulties.

"It is a legend, fabulous," said Thierry Morin, chief executive of Valeo SA, Europe's largest publicly traded car-parts maker, speaking at a cocktail party Thursday where bidders examined the lots.

Former US astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, who was the second man to walk on the moon, said Concorde takeoffs were in some ways "more dramatic" than a rocket lift-off.

"A rocket, since it is vertical, starts off very slowly. The Concorde accelerates hard from the start and keeps it up even after takeoff," he said at the party.

The Olympus 593 engines that provided the plane's thrust drew less enthusiasm at the auction, with the first motor selling for $153,000, higher than the catalog price estimate of $70,000 to $140,000.

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