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24 October 2008

On this day in history: Last commercial Concorde flights, 2003

During the late 1950s, aircraft manufacturers around the world started working on designs for supersonic passenger jets. The costs for such projects were so prohibitive that few of them progressed beyond the design stage. In the early 1960s, the British Aircraft Corporation, which had inherited the Type 223 supersonic transport (SST) project from the Bristol Aeroplane approached the French Sud Aviation, who were working on the Super-Caravelle SST, with an offer to co-operate on a joint project.

The result of this co-operation was Concorde, which made its maiden flight in 1969. By this time, Concorde only had one compettitor, the Russian Tupolev Tu-144, but cold war tensions and the crash of a Tu-144 at the 1973 Paris Air show meant that it was Concorde that attracted orders from the major airlines. Nevertheless, the oil crisis of late 1973, environmental concerns about nervousness about sonic booms (the noise the aircraft made as it broke the sound barrier) resulted in the cancellation of all the orders except those from the national airlines of France and the United Kingdom. These orders for ten aircraft each still required substantial government subsidies to keep the project alive.

In spite of these setbacks, Air France and British Airways (BA) started scheduled flights using Concorde in 1976. Although other airlines occasionally leased the aircraft, the high operation costs meant that supersonic travel was only feasible for the most profitible routes. Nevertheless, to continue running the services required high ticket prices, the continued government funding in the case of Air France and the sale of the British fleet of aircraft to BA at a knock-down price.

All this changed following the crash of a Concorde near Paris in July 2000. The year long grounding of all the Concordes contributed to the decision taken by both airlines to withdraw the aircraft. On 27th June 2003, an Air France Concorde flew for the last time and on 24th October that same year three BA Concordes made the last commercial flights by the aircraft: G-BOAG flew from New York to London; G-BOAE made a return flight to Edinburgh; G-BOAF flew around the Bay of Biscay. All three circled over London before landing within minutes of each other at Heathrow Airport.


capybara said...

The Concorde was one of a kind and it is such a shame that it had to go. Thanks for sharing this.

Stepterix said...

Was talking about this last night. Maybe its time had passed, or maybe its time has not yet arrived.

Thanks for the comment

A. said...

Was the crash really so long ago? I remember it so clearly. A horrific accident.

Stepterix said...

a: I had trouble believing that it is five years since the last commercial flight. Thanks for the comment