As its market shares were eroding on the soft drinks market, the US company Pepsi Cola undertook a major re-branding project of $500 million US which would be unveiled in 1996 after about two years of work. Pepsi therefore started to look around for a spectacular and efficient manner to advertise its new brand style and enhance its sales. It was eventually decided to have an advertisement operation involving the Concorde.
Pepsi started requesting proposals from both Air France (AF) and British Airways (BA), the sole two Sud Aviation/BAC Concorde operators. Eventually, the French carrier was awarded the contract (of which terms were not disclosed).
Because the new identity of Pepsi was based on the color blue, the aircraft would have to be painted alike. Therefore the Air France maintenance staff had to call Aerospatiale (successor of Sud Aviation) as the airplane, for which temperature is so important, was only certified with a white color scheme. They received approval to paint the fuselage in blue, but were advised to keep the wings in white (because of the fuel temperature).
It was advised to remain at M2.02 for about 20 minutes at most, but there was no restriction under M1.70. This was not a concern for Air France as the aircraft was not due to operate any scheduled flight to New York ‚ John F. Kennedy (JFK) or any such long sector.
A part of the preparation included the constitution of a maintenance package, necessary handling tools and ground equipment, etc., as for any unscheduled Concorde operation.
Air France required its name to be kept close to the cockpit, as well as the seahorse despite the Pepsi scheme. This is a usual requirement from the airline, which was for the occasion very important as Concorde was due to be presented in British Airways’ backyard.
The Concorde registered F-BTSD (c/n 213) was selected for maintenance availability reasons. The paint work was started in late March 1996 at the Air France maintenance facility of Paris ‚ Orly (ORY), where all airplanes go after their D-check to get a new livery. It required 200 liters of paint and 2,000 hours of work.
The whole operation was to be undertaken secretly, as Pepsi wanted to keep all the surprise for the moment when it would unveil its new identity. “Sierra Delta” was thus covered by brown wrapping paper after it was painted, so that as few people as possible would be aware of the event. It eventually left the hanger on March 31st at night, and was quickly rolled to the runway where it took off for London - Gatwick (LGW), where Pepsi had planned to receive its guests. The aircraft was immediately towed to the hanger after its arrival, and made ready for the show. And yet, a few days before the new brand was unveiled, Richard Branson had apparently heard about the advertisement operation, as proved ads for the Virgin Cola soft drink in the British press. A few articles about an Air France Concorde being repainted with a blue color scheme were issued in the newspapers.
The show took place on 02 April 1996, with the presence of Claudia Schiffer, Andre Agassi, Cindy Crawford, and hundreds of journalists invited by Pepsi for the event. People were really astonished to see the Concorde with the blue livery. Flight attendants each had a special pin on their uniform designed for the occasion.
Afterwards, “Sierra Delta” started a promotion campaign in Europe and the Middle East. For the Pepsi commercial operation, there were a total of 16 flights (including the ferry flights from ORY) and 10 cities visited. Each flight, except the first and last ones, would have been occasions to go supersonic