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Simon Brooks with British Airways announced new nonstop routes between Charleston and London in October. Earlier this week, he said the company is pleased with the forward bookings on both sides of the Atlantic. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

With the crowd packed full of business and tourism leaders and arriving passengers streaming by, all wondering what was going on, Simon Brooks walked to the lectern at Charleston International Airport in October to deliver a historic message.

To rousing applause, he announced British Airways would launch twice-weekly, nonstop flights between the Holy City and London.

The historic moment didn't come together quickly or easily.

Six years earlier, Brooks remembers meeting with Charleston's chief tourism leader Helen Hill and airport-tourism liaison Gary Edwards in his London office.

Hill and Edwards had been meeting all day with others in British Airways' Waterside headquarters, trying to sell Charleston to the globe-trotting airline for what would be a first — a nonstop transatlantic flight between the England capital and a South Carolina city named after an English king.

"We had a really positive dialogue, but the timing was not really right," Brooks said. "British Airways was not in a growth period and not taking delivery of a number of new aircraft."

Many more meetings would occur over the next six years on both sides of the Atlantic, but in the interim, a couple of unrelated big-business ventures would change the dynamics of the talks.

Five years ago, British Airways started adding Boeing Dreamliners, including those assembled in North Charleston, to its fleet. With the new fuel efficiency delivered by the aircraft, that same year the airline launched a nonstop, transatlantic route between Austin, Texas, and London.

"Because of its success, that really opened our eyes to other markets in the U.S.," Brooks said.

Two years ago, the airline added a similar flight in New Orleans. Last year, Nashville, Tenn., landed the British Airways connection. Earlier this week, Pittsburgh joined the list of nonstop connections to London. On Thursday, the flight from Charleston on a Boeing 787 becomes a reality.

Also helping to land the airliner in the Lowcountry was a European car manufacturer.

In 2015, Swedish automaker Volvo Cars announced plans to build its first North American assembly plant west of Summerville off Interstate 26 in Berkeley County.

Two years later, with the plant taking shape, workers began moving into the sprawling campus. At about that same time, talks between Charleston's tourism leaders and British Airways heated up.

With Volvo's leaders wanting a more direct path to South Carolina, Hill and company used it as a selling point.

They also gathered data on all the corporate firms in Charleston, as well as the number of international companies doing business in South Carolina.

Those figures and a decision change by the airline tied to the fuel efficiency of the Dreamliner made the Charleston-London connection more palatable to British Airways. 

"As a company, they changed their philosophy about doing less-than-daily service because of the plane," Hill said of British Airways.

Boeing's presence in the Lowcountry and Volvo setting up shop not far from the Mercedes-Benz auto assembly operation in North Charleston helped make the numbers work, too.

"With the sustained growth of the South Carolina economy and the investment in the region, it was a compelling story for us to begin service between London Heathrow and Charleston," Brooks said.

He pointed to British Airways' connecting flights to Scandinavian countries from London as another cog in the deal.

"This will allow Volvo to connect and do its business easier than they could do before," Brooks said.

The bottom line for British Airways has always been about adding a route that would make money for the company.

"Our expansion plan needs to be a profitable one," Brooks said. "It was very much a data-led discussion."

"It was, indeed," Hill said.

British Airways looked at the size of the market, what companies were based or doing business in the region, and what were their plans for the next five years.

The carrier also wanted to know the current routes people took to fly between London and Charleston, how many people flew between the two cities on connecting flights and how many of them flew on to other European destinations from London. They also had to figure in interest from the European side.

"The data was much more reflective of the booming South Carolina economy," Brooks said of the findings that led to the decision to launch the new route.

Those specifics weren't revealed for proprietary reasons, but Brooks said there is "a healthy balance of travelers on both ends of the route" to make it viable.

"We are really pleased with the forward booking levels," he said. "It's not about the first flight. It's about the sustained bookings."

The twice-weekly flights are scheduled through October, but service beyond that is up in the air. 

"This is just the beginning," Brooks said. "The commercial success of the flight will dictate what happens next."

Hill realizes Charleston is a smaller market than British Airways is used to and that the company is taking a risk.

"The key for us is we have to knock it out of the park," she said. "And this is our time to do it."

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Reach Warren L. Wise at 843-937-5524. Follow him on Twitter @warrenlancewise.