The future looked bright. Successful tests proved that supersonic travel is a possibility in today‘s world and that the future of aviation lies in the hands of those airlines, who will fly the Concorde name in the skies.
But was the future really that bright for the supersonic transport aircraft?
The first commercial Concorde flights began on 21st of January, 1976. The first two routes were London – Bahrain and Paris – Dakar – Rio de Janeiro. At first, there were no flights from and to the United States. The US Congress just banned supersonic aircraft flying and landing in the US, over the concerns of sonic booms. The program overcame one of its commercial hitches. However, that was the first signal, that Concorde was not destined for success.
After a few months, the US Secretary of Transportation allowed Concorde to land at Washington’s Dulles International Airport and both Air France, and British Airways began operating flights from Paris and London. Next year the ban was lifted on New York’s JFK Airport and supersonic flights between London and Paris to New York began.
Concorde operated on a few more routes - namely, to Singapore. What was interesting, that the flights were operated by both British Airways and Singapore Airlines. The aircraft even had a dual livery - a British Airways one on the starboard side and Singapore Airlines livery on the port side. But the Malaysian government complained about the noise and sonic booms, so the route was temporarily canceled. After rerouting and avoiding Malaysian airspace, then the Indian government complained and disallowed Concorde to reach supersonic speeds over its airspace. British Airways canceled the route completely.
The supersonic jet also flew scheduled flights to Bahrain, Dallas, Miami, Toronto, Caracas and Mexico.
From 1978 till 1980 Braniff International Airways leased 11 Concordes (6 from BA and 5 from AF) to fly between Dallas and Washington D.C. The flights were not profitable and Braniff terminated their leases early.
And that was just the start. Fuel prices have risen significantly because of the 1979 energy crisis and the already steep running costs went up even higher. The British government wanted to completely cancel Concorde. British Airways managing director Sir John King convinced the government to sell Concorde to BA. A few years later the British government privatized British Airways.
Complaints about the sonic booms and the pollution of the environment always haunted Concorde. The more it flew, the more opposition it faced and many countries disallowed the aircraft to fly at supersonic speeds over their airspace.
Although Concorde boasted one of the cleanest incident records, one accident was enough to ignite the barrel. The barrel which rolled over the program and ended it.
The routine flight from Paris to New York started as it was usual. Nothing out of the ordinary happened until Concorde rolled onto the runway and tried to take off. The aircraft hit a metal strip that was lost by a previously departed DC-10. A blown tire pierced the fuel tank and a fire broke out on the aircraft. Concorde crashed into a hotel nearby and subsequently killed all of the passengers and crew on board. 4 hotel guests died as well. The total number of fatalities was 113.
The supersonic jet was grounded for a year, as an investigation for the reason of the crash was started.
But before Concorde could take off again, the September 11th terrorist attacks happened. The attacks caused a sharp downturn in passenger numbers. The already barely profitable British Airways program and the profitless Air France program had suffered massively.
Concorde went on a farewell tour in 2003. It landed in Filton, the place of her birth approximately at 12:45 PM. The curtains closed and arguably the greatest invention in the civilian aviation was grounded forever.
In the end, Concorde was just shy of making 50000 flights. The aircraft transferred more than 2.5 million passengers supersonically during its 27 years of service. Fastest transatlantic crossing - 2 hours 52 minutes and 59 seconds.
And while the last flight was over 15 years ago, its legacy as an aviation icon still lives on. Plagued by rising fuel and maintenance costs, the declining passenger numbers and the unfortunate events of 2000 and 2001 grounded Concorde forever. Though some efforts to revive the program were made, none of them were successful.
As Concorde will never fly again, we can still appreciate its beauty and the legacy it left behind in the sky. Currently, there are 18 on display in museums all over the world. So if you crave to still see one, there are still opportunities to do so.
And honestly, every aviation geek should see one in their lifetime.