In 1973, the joint British-French Concorde supersonic airliner program suffered a severe setback when both Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) and Trans World Airlines (TWA) canceled their orders for the world’s fastest airliner. With that in mind, we thought we would take a look back and see why the St. Louis-based airline decided not to purchase the delta-winged plane.
Just like the jet engine had revolutionized commercial aviation back in the early 1960s with the Comet, Pan Am believed that supersonic travel was the future of flight. Looking to get in on the act early, the New York City-headquartered airline placed an order for four options in June 1963 and a further two the following year. By doing this, Pan Am, along with the British Overseas Aircraft Corporation (BOAC) and Air France, would become the first airlines to receive the faster-than-sound plane.
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TWA did not want to be left behind
Now seeing its three transatlantic rival carriers place orders, TWA jumped on the bandwagon with a request for four planes just four months later, which increased to six aircraft in 1965. Between 1965 and 1973, Pan Am had invested heavily in the Boeing 747, and now seeing large widebody aircraft being more profitable than the expensive Concorde, decided to cancel its order for the Anglo-French plane.
Knowing that the Concorde burned three times as much fuel as a 747, Pan Am told the New York Times that the Concorde would require “substantially higher fares than today’s.” It said that the 1,400‐mile‐an‐hour Concorde did not meet “future requirements as the company now sees them.”
TWA quickly followed suit, with the company president, Forwood C. Wiser Jr., saying the company’s top management would recommend canceling its Concorde order. Mr. Wiser noted that priority should be given to the improvement and expansion of the subsonic fleet.
The time was not right
In 1973, the world was in the grip of the Middle East oil crisis, prompting airlines concerns about Concordes viability. Add to this the crash of Russia’s supersonic transport (SST), the Tupolev Tu-144, at the Paris Air Show that year and the idea of supersonic travel was starting to have its doubters.
With environmental issues also now at the forefront, and concerns about noise and sonic booms on the rise, interest in SSTs was beginning to dwindle. As canceled orders came flooding in from airlines no longer seeing supersonic travel as a moneymaker, it came down to France and the United Kingdom to buy the plane.
British Airways and Air France flew the Concorde
In the end, BOAC, now British Airways and Air France, were the only two airlines to fly the Concorde, taking delivery of six aircraft each. The two national airlines operated the Concorde until it was finally retired in October 2003, following the fatal crash of Air France flight number AF-4590 three years earlier in Paris.
With today’s environmental concerns and all the talk about carbon offsetting, it is improbable that the Concorde would still be in service forty-four years later.
Do you think TWA made the right decision or could it have competed with BA and Air France? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments.