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!

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Sam Rittler

Unless the sonic boom can be fixed, don’t expect supersonic travel to return anytime soon.

Matt Saleh

I don’t think supersonic flying will ever make commercial sense again. They will always be gas guzzlers so the will have limited range. So back to JFK-LHR. On the average subsonic jets do it in 6.5 hours. A Concorde was doing it in 3 hours. For business purposes you will loose the business hours in London anyway if you leave NY in the morning with a supersonic jet (8 am – 4 pm). If someone wants to spend the money, better take a night flight with high end first class accommodation. Sleep comfortably and be in London in the morning.… Read more »

Dave Williams

Had the great pleasure of flying BA002 JFK-LHR on 13 July 2003. The aircraft was G-BOAF, which I went to visit in Aerospace Bristol for my birthday last year. The aircraft was the last Concorde built, first back into service after the Paris crash and last to fly. One of the other passengers was Steve Rider, who at the time was heading up ITV’s F1 coverage. I can’t remember his exact comment at the time but we agreed that, with Concorde’s retirement looming, it was a must do experience. A truly priceless experience and although I’ve since flown on B-17,… Read more »

Michael Pearl

Comfort wise , like flying on a DC 9. But the BA device was excellent as was the service on AF. And the savings on flight time on the body were great

Tim Kyle

Good Morning, Everyone, wherever you may be in the world. I think it’s great new companies have popped up concerning supersonic flight. One thing we aren’t factoring in is I’m sure technology has advanced since the 1970s and Concorde, so I’m really interested in how much (just read the “Concorde vs Boom” article), though I can’t imagine that things haven’t advanced that we are still only looking at only going Mach 2.2. Simple Flying, would you consider doing a more in-depth article interviewing these companies such as Boom or others that are working on bringing Supersonic flight back? Here’s the… Read more »

Ray Springer

I flew the last leg from YYZ to JFK in Oct. 2003. Seemed small inside, but it was a rocket sled on the runway. We could not go supersonic over land, but even so, it was a short flight (by the time we finished our meal, we were in the JFK stack). Agree, it won’t be back…

Bill Hough

Have you read “Supersonic (airliner) non-sense: a case study in applied market research ” by R.E.G. Davies? it was published in the 1990s, but I have not seen a decent rebuttal (Boom’s press releases don’t count). Unless it is possible to resolve the issues raised in the book, I doubt supersonic airliners will return.