Even though such aircraft are notorious for being not environmentally friendly and abysmally expensive to operate – but did the American airline companies been out to kill the super sonic transport program from the very start?
By: Ringo Bones
Before being retired back in 2003, most of us probably still harbor the impression that it was the horrible accident of Air France Flight 4590 where an Air France Concorde flight tragically crashed back in July 2000. Some could say it was the post 9/11 “fear-of-flying” that eventually killed off the Concorde – the only supersonic capable civilian transport plane that was part of the 1960s super sonic transport program started by both the United States and leading European economic superpowers back then. But does anyone still know that as far back as the late 1960s, American airline companies already harbored a disdain for civilian super sonic transport programs like the Concorde?
A few years before the Concorde’s maiden flight at Toulouse, France back in 1969, American airline companies were already concerned over declining profits and were already committed – at the time – to the purchase of 5-billion US dollars’ worth of wide-bodied subsonic jets, they were in no mood to pledge additional billions in super sonic transport orders. Back then, American airline companies cancelled their options for the Concorde and left the Anglo-French combine with only 16 orders. Remaining customers back then, at almost 50-million US dollars per plane were Britain, France, The People’s Republic of China and Iran. Eventually, only Britain and France maintained a fleet of Concorde planes as part of their national flag carriers when the civilian super sonic transport entered regular service.
Though designed in the 1960s, the Concorde still looks fresh long after its retirement into a museum piece ten years ago – even long after the other design fads of the 1960s have worn into a cliché. And it was only after a few years it debuted in the 1976 Paris Air Show – while competing with the then Soviet Union’s version of the civilian super sonic transport, the Tupolev TU-144 – that the Concorde entered into full commercial service.
But in truth, the Concorde is abysmally expensive to operate in comparison to typical subsonic jumbo jets. It takes three times the maintenance cost of a Boeing 747 and burns 50% more fuel despite carrying only 100 passengers to the 747’s 400. And during the austere fiscal environment of the post Operation Desert Storm early 1990s, Air France and British Airways, the only airline companies that operated the plane, have taken to using gimmicks to fill the seats. It wasn’t until the Clinton era economic boom of the mid to late 1990s that the romance of mere civilians with a little extra cash can safely break the sound barrier while sipping champagne and eating caviar while being pampered like royalties – until the tragic crash of Air France Flight 4590.