16 Years After The Last Concorde Flight – What Is Supersonic Flight’s Future?

16 years ago today, the final passenger flight of a Concorde touched down at London Heathrow Airport. Part of the reason for the aircraft’s demise was the unpopularity of the aircraft’s sonic boom. However, 16 years later, the interest in supersonic flight has been reignited.

Supersonic Flight, British Airways, Concorde
Concorde is an icon of the aviation industry. Photo: Airbus

Concorde was once regarded as the height of luxury. Whizzing across the Atlantic between New York and Paris and London, passengers were flying faster than the speed of sound above the Atlantic Ocean. However, all good things come to an end. After a mix of factors, the final Concorde carrying passengers landed at London Heathrow on the 24th of October 2003, marking the end of the supersonic era… for now!

A brief history of Concorde

The first of 20 Concordes to be built took its maiden flight on March 2nd, 1969, 50.5 years ago. Six of these aircraft were development aircraft, three French and three British. The remaining 14 aircraft were divided equally between Air France and British Airways, the flag carriers of France and Britain respectively.

The Concorde was seen as the pinnacle of luxury travel. British Airways could seat 100 passengers onboard its Concordes. This comprised 40 passengers in the front half of the aircraft, with a further 60 in the rear portion. The aircraft was primarily used on flights between New York, and London and Paris. In fact, according to British Airways,

“Concorde’s fastest transatlantic crossing was on 7 February 1996 when it completed the New York to London flight in 2 hours 52 minutes and 59 seconds.”

Supersonic Flight, British Airways, Concorde
20 Concorde aircraft were built. Photo: British Airways

The downfall of Concorde

The final commercial Concorde flight took place on the 24th of October 2003. Captain Mike Bannister flew BA2 from New York’s JFK Airport to London Heathrow. But why was the aircraft retired?

Firstly, the Concorde’s sonic boom, despite being a major characteristic of the aircraft, contributed to its downfall. Due to the unpopularity of the sonic boom, the aircraft was basically confined to operating transatlantic flights, slowing down over land.

However, a fatal accident of an Air France Concorde in 2000 also led to a drop in Concorde bookings, as did the aftermath of 9/11. All in all, the aircraft was retired due to a fall in passenger numbers, tied with an increase in maintenance costs.

What about the future of supersonic flight?

There are several companies working to help supersonic aircraft take flight once more. One of the more well-known companies is Boom Supersonic who hopes to launch the Overture. The Boom Overture currently has 30 preorders from Japan Air Lines and the Virgin Group.

Supersonic Flight, British Airways, Concorde
A renewed interest in supersonic flight has been sparked recently. Photo: Boom Supersonic

Describing the aircraft, Boom states,

“No more painful, three-day trips to make a single meeting. Leave from San-Francisco a whole day later and still make your morning meeting in Tokyo—no destination is out of reach.”

However, with lessons learned from the Concorde’s retirement, it is possible that the next generation of supersonic aircraft could be more practical.

Did you ever fly on Concorde? What’s next for supersonic flight? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!