It seems hard to believe that the last commercial Concorde flight occurred ten years ago today. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to be replaced in the near future, as fuel costs are now the major constraint on supersonic travel, which remains economically infeasible.With routes from London and Paris to JFK and Washington Dulles, and Paris to Rio via Dakar, and at its peak, joint service from London to Bahrain to Singapore, Concorde made its mark with business travelers across the Atlantic, Middle East, and even Asia.
While today’s engines are more fuel efficient than in the 1970s when Concorde was introduced, their large fans, used to achieve high bypass ratios and propulsive efficiency, are inappropriate for supersonic applications. So today, we fly slower than we did nearly 38 years ago, when Concorde first entered service on January 21, 1976.
Concorde was a magnificent technical achievement at the time, when aviation was coming into a new era with the 747, L-1011 and DC-10 being introduced earlier in the decade, changing the nature of air travel.
Concorde took a different direction, and since speed is the fundamental reason we fly, was an immediate hit with those who could afford the high airfares – business travelers. Yes, the interior was tight – but the time savings were fantastic. I remember a day in which I had an 8am breakfast meeting in Paris, caught the 11am Concorde for New York, arrived at 8:30am EST, had another full 3 hour morning meeting, and caught the noon shuttle for a meeting in Boston for 3 hours that same afternoon. I simply couldn’t do that today with the same productivity, unless the meeting was virtual. There are still meetings that can’t be accomplished by video-conferencing, and it is difficult to build relationships through a computer screen or television monitor.
I have fond memories of my multiple Concorde flights, my fastest a 3:21 trip from NY to London on British Airways and a 3:23 from JFK to Paris on Air France. The world has certainly changed when it comes to travel, but between new security requirements, slower planes, and different attitudes towards customer service, I can’t really say that we’ve changed for the better. Concorde, I miss you.