Why Was Concorde Given An Early Retirement?

It has been over half a century since Concorde took its first flight. Despite expectations to change the landscape of aviation, only 14 of the supersonic jets conducted commercial operations. The last of these was retired in October 2003, 34 years after the aircraft type’s founding.

Concorde Takeoff
It has been 17 years since the last Concorde service was operated. Photo: Getty

Record-breaking feats

The fastest transatlantic crossing was conducted by a Concorde jet on February 7th, 1996. The plane flew from New York to London in under two hours and 53 minutes. With so much flight time being saved with the aircraft, it can be surprising to learn that the supersonic travel such as this didn’t stand the test of time.

Ultimately, these extraordinary abilities came at a price. According to The Telegraph, the initial development costs were around £1.134 billion ($1.35 billion), which was funded by the governments of the United Kingdom and France.

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Once the jets were in the hands of British Airways and Air France, they were able to maintain a healthy income stream for a while. Generally, fares were around 30 times greater than the cheapest fees for the era. Ultimately, each flight only needed to be half full to break even.

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Concorde BA
Concorde’s pointy nose was one of its many standout physical features. Photo: Eduard Marmet via Wikimedia Commons

21st-century woes

However, on 25th July 2000, Air France Flight 4590 heading for New York ran over debris during takeoff at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.

According to iNews, an investigation concluded that the debris was a fragment of a metal strip that had fallen from another plane. This punctured one of the jet’s tires. This exploded and hit a fuel tank, which instantly ignited a fire, causing the pilot to lose control of the aircraft.

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Ultimately, the incident resulted in 113 fatalities. Following the accident, all Concorde planes were grounded for almost a year. During this time, losses started to mount for operators with their temporarily redundant aircraft undergoing vigorous maintenance. During this time, safety improvements were made such as Kevlar-lined fuel tanks and upgraded electronics.

Air France Flight 4590
The Air France Flight 4590 tragedy damaged Concorde’s operations. Photo: Getty Images

The final push

However, with the bad press that followed the accident, the carriers were not making back the money spent on the modifications. Additionally, 9/11 happened in the year that followed. These attacks had massively lowered the demand for a premium first class experience. Costs were continuing to mount and the airlines had to write off their debt before they doubled within a few years.

Altogether, the 2000 crash was a big blow for Concorde but 9/11 was the finishing punch. Two critical aviation incidents sandwiched the great expenditures made to safeguard the model.

Concorde was one of many aviation projects that could not survive in the years that followed 9/11. With only a small segment of passengers being able to afford flights on the planes and not many carriers operating them, there was not enough diversification in revenue sources.

Concorde interior
The interior of each Concorde plane had a classy finish. Photo: Jeroen Stroes Aviation Photography

A return for supersonic travel?

Since the retirement of the Concorde, the world has gone on to be more connected than ever. There are countless commercial and private services that have emerged specifically designed to help connect passengers as quickly as possible.

Several airlines have ramped up their transatlantic routes, along with new services to emerging economic hubs in the likes of South Africa and India. This has benefited travelers looking for a swift journey while on business or seeing family.

Therefore, if the balance is right, supersonic travel could see a comeback. Especially with firms such as Aerion investing heavily in the development of ambitious jets such as the AS2.

What do you think of the rise and fall of Concorde? Do you have any fond memories traveling on one of the jets? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section.

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Matt

I would not call 34 years early, especially seeing how most air frames do around 20 years.

JFP

This article neglects to mention the astronomical fuel consumption of the four RR-SNECMA Olympus 593 engines on each aircraft. It also fails to mention that the passenger cabin was about the size of the DC-7 propliner of an earlier generation. Finally, how politics constrained where Concorde could operate. Including U.S. protectionism (in the guise of “protecting the environment”) that kept it out of JFK for years

Frosty

Going sick from school 9-4-69 to see G-BSST make it’s maiden flight from Filton.seeing the end at Hatton x LHR A30 at a stand still.THE END OF BRITISH COMMERCIAL AVIATION.

Michelle Smith

Oskosh 1985 Airshow brittish airways Concorde, visiting heartland u.s in WS $400 subsonic 45 min. rides, 70° climb angle , very hard accelerate light fuel load 28 julJ 1985////// fast forward 6 Dec .1994 Airfrance. Concorde to N Y only possible by 82% discount ( thought dutch travel agency was b.s–ing me. only rountrip for $2,500 .59,000’@ 1,250 m.p.h to states with return April 1995 downwind. 1,450 M.P.H. Mach 2.03

Doz

The US only kept it out because they were jealous they didn’t have an SST. I remember being at Heathrow many a time experiencing the roar as she took to the sky. Everything used to shake. Amazing and well loved.

Mike O'Brien

Agree with Doz, major difficulty caused by spurious ‘environmental concerns’ cited by US for political reasons that would have vanished had the airplane been manufactured by Boeing. Flying this bird was a great experience although slightly weird arriving in New York ostensibly before you had left the UK, but at least it enabled quick day trips to the Big Apple taking the red eye back.
My major memory is of flying at 59,000 feet way above the clouds with the sky above darkening and clearly seeing the curve of the earth. Spectacular!

Nasir Khan

I would love to see the Concorde back in service. It was always a beautiful sight in full flight.

Gary Burman

Never mind conventional air travel, some bright spark in a few hundred years time will develop whorp speed for real & travelling the globe will take less than a second.

Harcharon Sandhar

I thought the Olympus engineers were old and retiring with no replacements trained was reason for the demise.?

Mpho Shashe

When is AS2 coming

Cecil Wyn Davies

I think the French made a mistake and that is why the Concord was scrapped.in the UK we could have carried on using Concord.

Geezer Ed

Not really the true reason. Even after the crash, grounding, and panic, several airlines wanted to put Concorde back in the air. Branson offered to buy the BA fleet and operate it if BA wasn’t interested. The actual k**l came from Airbus, which decided no longer to support the fleet with spares and maintenance.

Anthony Belyavin

As an apprentice at BAC Weybridge from 67 to 72, was privileged to work on Concorde. Both design and assembly. Got to fly on G-BOAG, which was sensational. Will never forget flying at just over mach 2 at 60⁰00 ft.

paul harding

I miss Concorde flying overhead I used to go up to Heathrow Airport just to see Concorde land I have many photos of Concorde landing and taking off that particular aeroplane was running a billion never to be seen again when would love to see it fly again

paul harding

I used to go up to Heathrow Airport just to watch Concorde land and take off Concorde was a Marvel in aviation history there will never be another one unless they build the same plane

Azman Shah

The accident was due the debris on the runway and not the fault of Concorde. Y not continue the service of this supersonic aircraft?

Victor Chibwana

The Concord Supersonic aircraft was a breakthrough revolution in the cutting edge of time for business in the 21st century travel. However business is to make money,but if the costs of running it is not profitable therefore it’s not worth the main aims of the business. So the lay off of the Concorde was in line with business aims.

Dan Dwyer

As said the Concord was 34 years in service, it’s time had come. 9/11 had nothing to do with it.

Lydia

I lived in Starette City, BKLYn in NYC. About 4 exits from JFK airpport. Everyday, 2 times a day I would hear The Concorde plane. It would set off the car alarms when it was landing or talking off from JFK while passing. It was a beautiful plane. None like it. Then 911 happened after that & then things weren’t the same. It really was a Beautiful Plane.