How Much Did It Cost To Operate Concorde?

When British Airways and Air France decided to retire their supersonic Concorde airliners in 2003, a key factor was its high operational and maintenance costs. These, combined with aspects like the crash of Air France flight 4590 in 2000 and the downturn that followed the 9/11 attacks, meant that flying the delta-winged jet was no longer economically viable.

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Concorde’s high operating costs were ultimately a factor in its demise. Photo: Getty Images

But how much exactly did it cost the UK and French flag carriers to operate Concorde on its flagship transatlantic routes? Let’s take a closer look and find out.

A billion-pound enterprise

Aérospatiale and BAC produced just 20 Concordes over the years. Of these, six were used as prototypes and test aircraft. Meanwhile, the remaining 14 commercial examples being split evenly between Air France and British Airways. Despite this leaving the carriers with just seven Concordes each, the cost of flying these Mach 2-capable jets was high.

A key factor in this was the plane’s rate of fuel burn. Propelling the delta-winged airliner across the Atlantic at twice the speed of sound is a thirsty job, even when taking advantage of the thinner air found at higher altitudes. According to Condé Nast Traveller, Concorde flights required around a ton of fuel per seat, which quickly added up.

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Concorde burned vast amounts of fuel as it traversed the Atlantic at Mach 2. Photo: Getty Images

Moreover, the New York Times adds that Concorde’s fuel burn was around twice that of the Boeing 747. This was despite it typically carrying four times fewer passengers

According to Concorde SST, the result of this, and other logistical factors, was an annual operating bill of £1 billion for British Airways. Assuming this to be from 2003, Concorde’s last year of operation, this is equivalent to around £1.7 billion ($2.3 billion) today.

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Maintenance costs were also high

Despite Concorde’s high operating costs, it was initially able to make a profit. Indeed, Concorde SST notes that, during the aircraft’s peak, it generated an annual profit of around £30-50 million for British Airways. However, as demand dropped, so did Concorde’s revenue.

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Concorde was more expensive to retrofit with safety equipment than most aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

Indeed, FlightGlobal reported in 2003 that new cockpit security doors for Concorde were costing operators around $300,000 each. This is some 12 times more expensive than the $25,000 quoted for the average subsonic Boeing airliner. This was a key factor in the 72% rise in maintenance costs that Air France cited when it announced the aircraft’s retirement.

Maintaining the aircraft also became costly in its later years. Of course, all planes need a bit more care and attention as they get older. As such, this was partly to be expected. However, the events of 9/11 brought about safety changes that demanded expensive retrofits.

Depreciation was less of a factor

There was one financial area that Air France and BA didn’t need to worry about to the same extent: depreciation. This is because they didn’t buy the jets at the list price. Instead, they acquired them from their governments for nominal fees. They did so in exchange for the government taking a share of the income generated by its operations.

Did you know about Concorde’s high operating costs? What are your favorite memories of the iconic supersonic airliner? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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