It’s Been 50 Years Since Concorde First Flew – When Will Supersonic Passenger Travel Come Back?

Today marks 50 years since the first flight of Concorde, one of the worlds most well known commercial airliners. The first of 20 Concordes took its first flight on March 2nd 1969. While the program was a huge success in terms of innovation, only 14 aircraft ever entered commercial service.

The Concorde was created with a vision to overhaul commercial air travel, however, following a disaster in Paris and the fallout of 9/11, the aircraft began to become commercially unviable. While the Concorde is no more, it became an icon of aviation, and has inspired other companies to explore the viability of present day supersonic travel.

The first Concorde taking off for the first time. Photo: André Cros/Wikimedia

British Icon

Despite being a product of both Britain and France, Concorde is widely regarded as a british icon. One of two operators, British Airways, proudly operated a fleet of 7 Concorde aircraft until they were finally retired from service in late 2003. As the airline celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, it hasn’t forgotten the legacy of Concorde.

Small reminders of the supersonic aircraft which once graced the skies are abound in the airline. The aircraft still plays a key brand in the airline’s branding, from the luxurious Concorde Room lounges, all the way to the BA coat of arms which subtly features the aircraft.

British Airways was one of two Concorde operators along with Air France. Photo: British Airways

London to New York in Hours

Concorde revolutionised transatlantic travel. Today a flight from London to New York will take around 8 hours and 15 minutes, however, the Concorde flew the route 5 hours quicker in 3 hours 15 minutes. This, however, came at significant cost. As such, the Concorde was usually reserved for those looking to splash on luxury. A ticket cost $7,995, which would equate to $12500 in today’s money.

The Fall Of Concorde

While Concorde was a groundbreaking aircraft, a couple of factors combined led to its downfall. Arguably the biggest factor was a Concorde accident which took place in Paris on 25th July 2000, resulting in the loss of all onboard. Due to the small number of aircraft built, this meant that 5% of Concordes built had been involved in a fatal disaster.

Additionally, the Concorde was very limited in the route it could serve. Many countries objected to the aircraft generating a sonic boom over their land. This resulted in some routes where an aircraft would slow down mid flight before reaccelerating, for example, over Florida.

British Airways retired the Concorde in 2003. Photo: British Airways

This ultimately meant that the Concorde was a very niche aircraft, mainly operating into New York. In the aftermath of 9/11, passengers became more wary of air travel, leading to a decline in Concorde ticket sales. This led to the aircraft being uneconomical to operate, with Air France and British Airways withdrawing it from service.

The Future

A few companies are currently investing whether it would be feasible to relaunch supersonic air travel. A company called Boom is expected to begin testing a prototype aircraft in 2020. The company is being backed by Virgin Atlantic, not surprising as Richard Branson reportedly attempted to purchase British Airways’s Concorde aircraft.

Do you think we will see supersonic air travel again? Is so, when? Let us know in the comments down below!