Concorde - birth and death!

The beginning and ending of this technological wonder aircraft, the Concorde.

Concorde was the first ever supersonic commercial passenger carrier to be built. It was a joint venture between Great Britain and France when it came to putting the pieces together to build this sound barrier breaking machine. The aircraft was designed by four companies: in the UK by British Aerospace and Rolls Royce, and in France by Aerospatiale and SNECMA. The aircraft was finally fully built and manufactured in 1969 and after rigorous testing, the first ever Concorde took to the skies to make its inaugural transatlantic crossing on September 26, 1973. The first passenger flights then took place sometime down the line on January 21, 1976 when British Airways flew it from London to Bahrain and Air France from Paris to Rio De Janeiro. Both airlines saw the potential in the transatlantic market with this aircraft and it was not long before regular services to Washington began in the same year, with New York following the year after.

Over the years the aircraft was used on several other experimental destinations, including charter operations however, towards the end, New York remained as the primary profitable destination for both airline carriers. In total, 14 Concordes were in service between the two major operators and operations eventually came to a drastic end. Air France ceased all Concorde operations in May 2003 and British Airways in October the same year.

Concorde could fly at twice the speed of sound at a cruising speed of around 2179 km (1354 miles) per hour. It could pretty much fly London-New York in about 3 hours! This together with the aircraft's high operating and maintenance cost meant a regular return ticket as such would cost around $7500 return trip ($12,500 in todays value!). Most of the time the aircraft operated at half load factors and majority of the passengers were frequent airline guests, private millionaires or simply upgraded passengers. The aircraft had become a symbol of not just aviation over time but a big part of the British Airways and Air France classy reputation at the time.

Why did it all come to an end then?

A number of factors contributed to putting Concorde away forever. The aircraft was already extremely expensive to operate and maintain. It was noisy and not economically efficient in terms of fuel burn and passenger loads. This was an ongoing addition to financial losses both airlines were experiencing for a while and also the reason why New York was the only financially manageable destination served by both at the time.

This manageable situation took a sudden downturn when on July 25, 2000, at 4.43 PM an Air France Concorde operating a Paris - New York (flight AF 4590) crashed just after takeoff from Charles de Gaulle airport. The final verdict saw that one of the aircraft's tyres burst due to left over metallic debris from a previous departing aircraft which tore electrical cables and punctured a hole in the left wing fuel tank. The significant and sudden fuel leak caused an ignition and fire to erupt causing both left side engines to cut off. The aircraft veered on the runway and after initial rotation managed to climb to about 200 feet before plunging down, crashing and killing all 100 passengers, 9 crew and 4 people on the ground.

Both airlines had grounded the aircraft after this incident and it took a while before an operational green light came. The largest problem after a more detailed investigation stated that the fuel tank lining within the Concorde was too weak and needed to be further strengthened before flight approval could be re-granted. This resulted because the investigation declared the Air France fuel tanks should have never ruptured due to rubber debris from the tyres in the first place. This puncture and secondary fuel leak is what caused the fire and engines to flame out resulting in total catastrophe.

British Airways and Air France combined spent millions of dollars finding a solution and working a way to strengthen Concordes fuel tanks, but this meant the aircraft weight was to increase significantly making it operationally more expensive to run then it already was! Despite this, they never gave up on finding a solution and after rigorous experiments and testing, they came close to bringing Concorde back into the skies permanently, but then the most unfortunate event occurred on the planet, September 11th! I need not say more on why Concorde thereafter went from the airport gates to the museum parking space. On October 24, 2003, the last British Airways Concorde flight landed at London Heathrow from New York's JFK. This was not just a sad day for the end of supersonic flight but one for aviation globally.

Will we see something like Concorde again in the skies? I doubt it very much based on the costs associated with supersonic travel, especially when compared to the modern fuel efficient A350's and B787 Dreamliners taking over the skies. The future in air travel will concentrate on more greener and profitable options and I am confident to say, I will probably not witness another Concorde era, at least not in my lifetime.

If you are a true Concorde fan or enthusiast, I would recommend the book below. It's not just a great read but a nice collection to add to your library of aviation items.

Be safe Aviators, wishing all of you the best.