Concorde Blues

I really wanted to fly in the Concorde. But now it is extinct–all because one of them hit a piece of debris on the runway and crashed. Couldn’t that happen to any plane? There have been umpteen causes of airplane crashes–flocks of geese, wind shear, bombs–all outside forces. But I don’t see these companies taking their airplanes out of service forever. What gives?

That’s not the only reason. I’m sure the internet is full of discussion about the fall on the Concorde, but as I recall, the market for the plane was shrinking as other ways to cross the Atlantic improved. The plane was expensive to operate and maintain, and was reaching the end of it’s life span. The Paris crash may have accelerated its demise, but it was on its way out regardless.

That’s not the reason why the Concorde program was cancelled, though it may have been a contributing factor. The Concorde was insanely expensive to operate. It guzzled fuel like a drunken fratboy, for one. The maintenance costs were very high, because there were so few of them and it was a totally unique design. The R&D costs were never recovered because the few planes that were sold were bought at a large discount. And demand for the super-expensive tickets just wasn’t there. Super rich people would fly Concorde once for the novelty, then go back to buying cheaper first-class tickets on a 747. Most people didn’t really need to save a couple hours getting from New York to London, even the Gordon Gecko types.

The accidents provided a reason for Air France and British Airways to cancel the extremely unprofitable program while saving face.

It’s possible you’ll get your wish, a group is trying to get one single Concorde flying again as basically an air show plane that takes people on expensive joy rides.

And then there’s this recent company claiming they’ll have a “mini-concorde” 40 seat super sonic plane developed in the near future:

This. The high end of the airline ticket market basically switched from “get there fast” to “get there more comfortably”. Lie back seats, privacy suites, showers, &c.

That and the fact that long distance private business jets were in general far more useful for the uber-rich. Take off when you want, fly directly to a smaller airport nearer to your final destination. Even if the Concorde was faster, the convenience of leaving whenever you want was more valuable to the uber-rich.

And skipping security lines. If I’m going to shave a couple of hours off my travel time, I want to shave off those hours, especially if the plane itself is more comfortable.

Don’t forget it also came at a time of increasingly good electronic communications. Why fly across the Atlantic when you can Skype? I know video-calling was nowhere near as good then as it is now, but it was a factor.

To reinforce this last point:

The Concorde was developed in the 1960s, and first flew in 1969 (though it didn’t enter commercial service until 1976). Even if we go with the 1976 operational date, that gives it a 27 year service lifespan (with the fleet retired in 2003).

A number of other commercial airliner models were also developed / introduced in the 1960s, and a number of them – such as the DC-10, L-1011, and 727 – were also largely retired from passenger service at about that same time.

That said, several 1960s-vintage models – the 737, 747, and DC-9 (reworked as the MD-80, MD-90, and 717) – are still in active service, but those were highly popular models, and, thanks to ongoing orders for new aircraft, have seen regular updates and revisions. With only 20 Concordes ever produced (and none after 1979), there was never that same drive to update the plane.

Also – and this has been touched on – Concorde’s reason for being was the high-end business traveler. But, due to its narrow body, it had a cramped interior, and was not nearly as comfortable as the more luxurious first class / business class cabins on later airplanes.

Random semi educated point here.

The Concorde (at least the airframe) was not remotely near the end of its lifespan.

The Cocorde only did one long flight per day. That is much less cycling than a 747 that visits 3 to 5 or more airports in a work day.

Also, the whole air frame got baked dry on every flight. Probably most parts outside of the cabin interior were somewhere between pretty darn hot and hot enough to boil water. Good for driving away moisture.

(even less well educated response :slight_smile: )

That may well be. From what I can see, the Concorde’s cockpit was never updated, nor were the engines – as noted above, the plane guzzled fuel, and I have no idea if updated, more fuel-efficient engines were even a possibility for it.

I remember as a kid at Primary school seeing Concorde flying round about 1969-70, beecause they had a a lot of test flights from Thurleigh, just north of my town (and once mooted as the third London Airport), which had one of the longest runways in the country.

Now back in my home town, I’m looking forward to seeing Airlander 10, which has been dubbed “The Giant Arse”, which is due to take flight soon (they were saying that six months ago), which is at Cardington, less than a mile from where I live.

9/11 was a final nail in the coffin – literally, in some cases.

Emphaisis added.

And that was a key part: those designs were very welcoming of multiple stretches and even de-stretchings and major upgrades and modifications WRT higher efficiency engines (often with more than one choice) and wings. Concorde was extremely non-market-flexible. It did just one thing and did it unprofitably.

Blown tires on aircraft are quite common and the design of the Concord, with the air intakes low and behind the tires make it impossible to change. I am surprised the Concord flew as long as it did without engine FOD destroying an engine.

A typical 747 is not flying to three airports in a day, let alone five. One long flight per day is the norm for them too, outside of places like Japan (although I think the Japanese airlines got rid of their last 747s a few years ago).

Another point against the Concorde is that it could only fly out of very few airports, not so much for lack of ground support, but for neighborhood animosity.

IIRC, there was a huge grass-roots effort of residents around Chicago’s O’Hare to keep Concorde’s sonic booms away, and similar efforts took place at other airports to the point that Concorde was effectively limited to New York’s JFK, London’s Heathrow and Paris’ Charles De Gaulle.

Due to these restrictions, if you were traveling to or from an airport that wasn’t JFK, the Concorde was an ineffective option - to go from LA to London, you could get on a 747 and take a direct flight for roughly ten and a half hours, or you could fly to New York in about 6 hours, then sit around at JFK for a while before getting on the Concorde for a roughly three and a half hour flight. If your layover was very short, this might save you a few minutes, but more likely not, leaving only the prestige of flying on a supersonic plane as the sole benefit.

Also, for a variety of reasons, Concorde never really got produced in more than prototype numbers with a total of 20 airplanes built. The first six were the prototype/development fleet, and of the remaining fourteen, five were not purchased by an airline, and were ultimately sold to British Airways and Air France at fire-sale liquidation prices of 1 pound / 1 franc each in 1980. Previous posts describe all the main reasons for its lack of popularity - expensive to operate, surprisingly uncomfortable cabin, etc.

And even if it avoided supersonic flight near land, it still attracted controversy because its engines were extremely loud, even in the 1970s when all jets were loud.

For all the very good reasons already given, perhaps a more pertinent question is not why the Concorde was withdrawn, but why it was ever developed in the first place. Not all the problems could have been anticipated – the change in the economics of air travel, for instance, or the increasing concerns with airport noise that led to the development of quiet high-bypass engines. But most of the other issues were foreseeable. As wonderful as the thing was from a technology standpoint, seems like the whole thing was a Franco-British high-tech vanity project.

It would have been fun to have flown on one – apparently at the 10 mile altitude at which it flew the sky looking upward is virtually black, the fringe of outer space. But imagine the frustration of paying a premium price and enduring the discomfort of a narrow cabin to save a few hours, and then having the flight delayed by about the same number of hours – which these days happens more than one would like!

40 fascinating facts about Concorde – and some pictures. You can see how narrow it is both in the first overhead picture, and one of the cabin interior pics. The seating looks like the economy section of small regional jet.