Concorde was mostly renowned for its regular flights from Paris and London to New York. But, with its potential to transport the rich and famous to destinations around the world in super quick time, why did it not operate on many more routes?
The boom in supersonic travel
Concorde took to the skies for the first time on test flights in 1969. The first transatlantic crossing by the French 001 prototype took place in 1971. The BAC 002 prototype made its first visit to the USA in 1973 to mark the opening of the new Dallas/Fort Worth Regional Airport.
After a great deal of initial public interest in the iconic new aircraft, concerns began to be raised about the environmental impact of Concorde. Along with pollution, the noise during take-off and the sonic boom as the plane reached supersonic speeds caused a shift in public opinion.
Funding was cut for the American supersonic transport program, and Boeing’s prototypes were never completed. Concorde supersonic flights were initially ruled out by the US, India and Malaysia. Prospective buyers for Concorde dropped out and by 1976, only British Airways and Air France took up their orders.
Stay informed: Sign up for our daily aviation news digest.
Concorde begins scheduled flights
Concorde finally began operating scheduled supersonic services in January 1976, with flights from London to Bahrain and Paris to Rio de Janeiro. Soon after, the route from Paris to Caracas, via the Azores, began.
Amid public concerns about sonic booms, Concorde landings in the US were banned. However, in May 1976, Concorde received the green light to begin services to Washington Dulles International Airport. Both British Airways and Air France commenced three flights a week to the US capital.
A ban preventing Concorde from landing in New York was lifted in 1977, and flights from London and Paris to JFK Airport started in November that year. Complaints about noise were rejected when it was reported that Air Force One was louder during landing and take-off.
Singapore Airlines Concorde
Singapore Airlines briefly shared a Concorde with British Airways to operate flights from London to Singapore via Bahrain. The unique aircraft featured BA livery on one side and Singapore Airlines’ livery on the other.
However, the Malaysian government complained about the noise of the sonic boom, and India banned supersonic flight in its airspace. The route was not viable with these problems, and it was canceled after three return flights.
Concorde operated various routes
From 1978 to 1982, Air France operated a Concorde service to Mexico via Washington or New York. To avoid a sonic boom in the US, the aircraft had to decelerate to subsonic speed as it crossed over Florida and then accelerate again over the Gulf of Mexico.
Concordes were used by Braniff International Airways on subsonic flights between Dallas-Fort Worth and Washington, where British or French crews took over to continue to London or Paris at supersonic speeds. The services lasted from 1978 to 1980 but were not profitable.
Although other routes around the world were tried, it was the daily services from London and Paris to New York’s JFK Airport that were the mainstay of Concorde. Ultimately, it was resistance to noise pollution that prevented the wider expansion of supersonic flight.
Was supersonic passenger flight a viable real-world option?