The film was directed by David Lowell Rich. The ensemble cast includes George Kennedy, who appeared in all four films from the Airport series. Alain Delon and Robert Wagner also star, while Mercedes McCambridge and Martha Raye have cameos.
Kevin Harrison (Robert Wagner), a corrupt arms dealer, attempts to destroy an American-owned Concorde on its maiden flight after one of the passengers, reporter Maggie Whelan (Susan Blakely), learns of his weapons sales to communist countries during the Cold War.
The Concorde takes off from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. Captain Paul Metrand (Alain Delon) makes conversation with Isabelle (Sylvia Kristel), the purser. They land at Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C.
Maggie reports on the "Goodwill" flight on the Concorde the following day, which leads to a story of Harrison and his Buzzard surface-to-air missile project. A man named Carl Parker (Macon McCalman) shows up with a claim about documentation of illegal arms deals, but is shot before a passerby triggers a fire alarm, scaring the assailant away.
Maggie is told by Harrison someone is framing him. He sends Maggie off in a limo, then plots to have the Concorde's departure delayed and the drone test reprogrammed.
Capt. Joe Patroni (George Kennedy) joins Metrand aboard the Concorde, creating some doubt as to which pilot is in command. They are joined by Peter O'Neill (David Warner), the 2nd officer and flight engineer, who is living with a controlling girlfriend.
Harrison surprises Maggie at the airline check-in desk to see her off. He asks if the documents showed up, but they have not. As he is walking away, Parker's wife (Kathleen Maguire) delivers the documents to Maggie as she steps into the mobile lounge. She looks them over and realizes that Harrison lied to her.
The Concorde takes off for Paris. Unbeknownst to the flight crew, an off-course surface-to-air missile is headed straight for them. At his company headquarters, Harrison tells his controllers to alert the government. The USAF scrambles F-15 fighter jets to intercept the missile just as it locks onto the Concorde. After several evasive maneuvers by the passenger plane, an F-15 shoots down the missile before it collides with the Concorde.
As the Concorde is approaching the European coastline, an F-4 Phantom II sent by Harrison engages the Concorde as French Air Force Mirages scramble to help. The Concorde manages to evade the F-4's missiles, but the explosion of one of them damages the plane's hydraulic system. The Mirages shoot down the F-4 and the Concorde continues to Paris, although to Le Bourget airport instead of Charles de Gaulle. The plane reaches the French coastline, landing with a damaged hydraulic system and just barely stopping at the last safety net. Metrand and Isabelle invite Patroni to dinner.
Harrison promises Maggie to go public with the documents but attempts to bribe her into "polishing" his statement. After being paid by Harrison, a mechanic, Froelich (Jon Cedar), places a device in the Concorde's cargo door control unit, timed to open during flight.
As the passengers board, a well-dressed woman (played by Charo) attempts to smuggle a dog aboard. She is caught by an alert Isabelle and leaves. Froelich is in line at the security checkpoint when some of his money falls out of his pant leg. The X-ray technician attempts to return it, but Froelich pretends not to hear and runs off panicked. On the runway, where the Concorde is taking off, the aircraft's exhaust kills Froelich and scatters the money he received from Harrison.
The aircraft is en route to Moscow when the automatic device opens the cargo door. Metrand sees the carpet tear down the middle of the aisle, signifying the fuselage is under tremendous stress and the aircraft is about to break apart. The cargo door is ripped off, extensively damaging the aircraft and ripping a segment of the floor as it spirals toward the ground. The airline founder's seat lodges in the hole, acting as a plug. The pilots attempt to fly to Innsbruck, Austria for an emergency landing, but realize they are losing fuel and do not have enough to make it there. Metrand realizes they are flying towards a ski area he knows in the Alps; they could make a gear-up landing on a mountain-side.
The aircraft approaches the landing site while the ski patrol marks a runway. It lands successfully. While passengers are being rescued, Maggie gives a report of the accident to a news reporter and mentions a major story she is about to release. Harrison is seeing the newscast in his private plane and commits suicide. At the crash site, the last of the crew leaves the Concorde shortly before the fuselage caves in and explodes from the leaking fuel.Alain Delon as Capt. Paul Metrand
Susan Blakely as Maggie Whelan
Robert Wagner as Kevin Harrison
Sylvia Kristel as Isabelle
George Kennedy as Capt. Joseph "Joe" Patroni
Eddie Albert as Eli Sands
Bibi Andersson as Francine
Charo as Margarita
John Davidson as Robert Palmer
Andrea Marcovicci as Alicia Rogov
Martha Raye as Loretta
Cicely Tyson as Elaine
Jimmie Walker as Boise
David Warner as Peter O'Neill
Mercedes McCambridge as Nelli
Avery Schreiber as Russian coach Markov
Sybil Danning as Amy
Monica Lewis as Gretchen
Nicolas Coster as Dr. Stone
Ed Begley, Jr. as Rescuer #1
Jon Cedar as Froelich
Macon McCalman as Carl Parker
Kathleen Maguire as Mary Parker
Stacy Heather Tolkin as Irina
Marneen Fields as American Olympic Athlete
Harry Shearer as (voice) announcer Jeffrey Marx
It took producer Jennings Lang a number of years to get permission from Air France to use the Concorde.
The film was the recipient of mostly negative reviews by critics upon its release, and 34 years later, scored 17% on the film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes Film magazine Variety referred to it as an "unintentional comedy". Boxoffice called it "so silly it's actually entertaining."
Film critic Roger Ebert highlighted the film in his book I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie, deriding the science in the scene where Patroni fires a flare gun out of the cockpit window.
It is also listed in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson's book The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made.
The Concorde aircraft used in the film first flew on January 31, 1975, and was registered as F-WTSC to the Aérospatiale aircraft company. It would be re-registered by Aérospatiale as F-BTSC and leased to Air France in 1976. In 1989, this Concorde carried Pope John Paul II. On July 25, 2000, F-BTSC, as Air France Flight 4590, crashed in the small French town of Gonesse, killing all 109 passengers and crew on board, as well as four on the ground. At the time of the accident, F-BTSC had logged 11,989 hours and 4,873 cycles.
The film was released on videocassette by MCA Home Video in North America. In 2004, a Region One (U.S. and Canada) DVD release was issued by Universal for The Concorde: Airport '79 as part of an Airport Terminal Pack collection that included all four films in the Airport series. In Japan, the film was released on laserdisc as Airport '80: The Concorde on at least two occasions (1987 and 1999). A single disc was issued, followed by an inclusion in a box set containing all four Airport movies. The Japanese laserdisc was full frame (4x3) and included Japanese subtitles. Though disc labels and jacket include the name Airport '80: The Concorde, the actual on-screen credit was the same as seen in North America and read, The Concorde: Airport '79.
For the film's May 1982 network television premiere on ABC, additional footage was added to expand the film's running time so it could be shown in a three-hour time slot. A majority of the new footage consisted of scenes involving members of various government agencies investigating the background to Kevin Harrison. Actors playing investigators included Jose Ferrer, J.D. Cannon, Alan Fudge, and Ben Piazza. New scenes involving George Kennedy's family life and the death of his wife were also shot. Some deleted footage from the theatrical version was also reinstated into the television version. In addition, the cameo by Charo and scenes involving drug use by the Boise character were deleted, and some profanity was dubbed over. Despite the poor box office returns and the later parody Airplane! having put an end to the airplane disaster series, this TV version of the film came in tenth place in that week’s ratings with 18.3 million viewers and a 31 share of the viewing audience.