November 26, 2003 / Concorde makes the last flight in aviation history
After 27 years of flight, the Concorde, “the only supersonic passenger plane”, retires. In October 2003, British Airways retired the last passenger aircraft in its fleet of seven Concordes, citing rising prices and declining passenger numbers. Five months before that, Air France, the only other airline to use this type of aircraft with its distinctive triangle-shaped wings, had taken all five of its aircraft out of service.
Thus closed this chapter of aviation history that began in 1962, when British and French engineers joined forces to build a supersonic long-distance aircraft. These prototypes made their first flights in 1969, and in January 1976, passenger transport with supersonic aircraft became a reality, starting with flights to Bahrain and Rio de Janeiro.
The Concorde may have been a technological success, but economically it was a bust. The oil crises of the 70s were difficult to cope with, as this plane consumed more than 25,600 liters of fuel per hour, which is three times the amount consumed by an ordinary plane for each passenger. The handicap for the Concorde was not only that it could fly a limited distance of 6,880 kilometers, but also that it carried fewer passengers, only 100 people. So it was not very profitable for the airlines. Another thing that hindered the spread of the Concorde was the opposition that arose when it began flying in the United States, as some complained about the noise.
Price was another problem. The ticket cost thousands of dollars. Therefore a relatively small number of people could afford to travel by Concorde. With his menu of choice including champagne, duck liver mash or goose and caviar, traveling on the Concorde, “was the most special experience a man could have. But the best of the best was that it saved time. It wasn’t the most comfortable flight in the world, but the feeling you got was wonderful”, as one businessman says.
Faster than sunlight?
During its years of operation, the Concorde transported approximately four million passengers, and this is not a very large number when you consider that the fleet of Boeing 747 aircraft transports them in just a few weeks. So what made the Concorde such a famous aircraft?
Just think that at an altitude of more than 18 kilometers, the Concorde managed to fly at a speed of 2,150 kilometers per hour, which is twice the speed of sound. It flew so fast that, in flight, the 62-meter-long plane stretched about 24 centimeters from the heat generated by friction. A typical trip from Paris to New York on Concorde took just 3 hours and 55 minutes, which was almost half the flight time on another plane. The journey was so fast that, due to the time difference, passengers departing from Paris found when they landed in New York that it was earlier than the time they had left Paris.
There was only one fatal accident in the Concorde’s career. On July 25, 2000, an Air France plane crashed on takeoff from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, killing 113 people and 4 others on the ground. After a series of adjustments that were made to be as safe as possible, they resumed flights after a year. But it was the economic side that ultimately determined everything, putting an end to the Concorde flights.
The Concorde, which had neither rivals nor successors, will spend its well-deserved retirement in the world’s aviation museums. Jean-Cyril Spineta, the director of Air France, says: “In fact Concorde will never stop flying because it will remain in people’s imagination.”