What happened to Concorde?

  • Concorde was a supersonic passenger airliner jointly developed and manufactured by Sud Aviation and the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC). After more than three decades in the sky, the entire fleet was retired in 2003.
  • Concorde was not a commercially viable aircraft. The presence of a sonic boom limited its routes to those occurring over the open ocean. It was also heavy on fuel which made Air France and British Airways vulnerable to price hikes.
  • Concorde’s fate was sealed by a fatal crash in 2000 and the September 11 terrorist attacks the following year. A collapse in the first-class market and consumer avoidance of air travel exposed the aircraft’s lack of commercial viability.

Introduction of ConcordeConcorde was a supersonic passenger airliner that was jointly developed and produced by British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) and Aérospatiale. It made its first flight in 1969 and entered commercial service in 1976. Concorde was an engineering marvel and a symbol of technological advancement. It was capable of flying at twice the speed of sound, allowing it to reduce transatlantic flight times significantly.
Supersonic Travel RevolutionConcorde represented a significant leap in aviation technology. It could cruise at Mach 2.04 (more than 1,300 miles per hour), enabling passengers to travel from New York to London in just 3.5 hours, compared to around 7-8 hours on conventional subsonic airliners. The aircraft’s iconic delta wing design and powerful engines made it a symbol of progress and luxury in air travel.
Operational ChallengesDespite its technological marvel, Concorde faced numerous operational challenges. It had a limited range and could only fly supersonically over the ocean due to noise restrictions. The sonic boom generated during supersonic flight restricted overland operations. This limited its routes, and it primarily served transatlantic destinations. The operating costs were also significantly higher than those of subsonic aircraft, which led to expensive ticket prices. Concorde required high maintenance, and its engines needed frequent overhauls. All these factors made it difficult to operate profitably.
Safety ConcernsConcorde faced a severe setback in 2000 when an Air France Concorde crashed shortly after takeoff in Paris, resulting in 113 fatalities. The crash was caused by a piece of debris on the runway, which punctured a fuel tank, leading to a catastrophic fire. Investigations revealed safety concerns, and the entire Concorde fleet was grounded for over a year. While safety modifications were implemented, the incident tarnished Concorde’s reputation, and passenger confidence declined.
Economic ViabilityConcorde’s limited seating capacity (around 100 passengers) and high operational costs made it challenging to operate profitably. Despite charging premium fares, the airlines that operated Concorde flights struggled to cover costs. As a result, the Concorde service became increasingly unsustainable from an economic standpoint. The 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 further reduced demand for premium air travel, and Concorde’s financial woes continued.
Retirement of the FleetIn 2003, both British Airways and Air France, the two operators of Concorde, announced the retirement of their Concorde fleets. Rising maintenance costs, reduced demand, and the need for expensive safety upgrades were among the factors that led to this decision. The last commercial Concorde flight took place on October 24, 2003. Concorde’s retirement marked the end of an era in supersonic passenger travel, and the aircraft was subsequently relegated to museums and displays.
Legacy and Technological ImpactConcorde left a lasting legacy in the aviation industry. While its commercial operation was short-lived, its technological innovations and advancements in aerodynamics, materials, and propulsion had a significant impact. Lessons learned from Concorde’s development and operation influenced subsequent aircraft designs. The pursuit of supersonic travel has continued, with ongoing efforts to develop quieter and more economically viable supersonic commercial aircraft. Concorde remains an iconic symbol of human achievement in aviation, pushing the boundaries of what was possible in its time.


Concorde was a supersonic passenger airliner jointly developed and manufactured by Sud Aviation and the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC). Twenty aircraft were built, with British Airways and Air France the only two commercial companies to utilize them. 

The Concorde was an extremely fast way to travel. It was one of only two supersonic jets ever produced, carrying 100 passengers and 9 crew at a cruising speed of 1,350 miles per hour. As a result, Concorde’s flagship New York to London route could be made with tailwinds in under three hours.

After its first commercial flight in 1976, all Concorde aircraft were retired in 2003. Many can now be found on public display in museums around the world.

So what happened to Concorde? How did an aircraft promising to be the future of air travel be reduced to a museum piece?

Commercial viability

The Concorde produced a loud sonic boom when it eclipsed the speed of the sound. At ground level, the boom sounded like an explosion and had the potential to shatter glass.

This meant the Concorde could only be flown over water where it wouldn’t disturb people on the ground. Some countries flat out banned the aircraft from flying in their air space. In other countries, residents living near airports frequently complained about the noise.

Where a route could not avoid flying over land, the Concorde had to fly at slower speeds which made it no quicker than conventional aircraft.

BAC and Sud Aviation had difficulty selling the aircraft to airlines, with 12 canceling their orders three years before the first commercial flight. 

In addition to the sonic boom issue, Concorde engines were heavy on fuel and thus had a limited range. With a total capacity of 100, the Concorde consumed the same amount of fuel as a Boeing 747 that could travel twice as far and carry four times more passengers.

In most cases, the cost of fuel exceeded the profit from each flight – making the commercial viability of Concorde extremely vulnerable to high fuel prices. 

Air France Flight 4590

In July 2000, an Air France Concorde crashed shortly after taking off from Paris. 109 people on board were killed plus four on the ground.

Investigators determined that the plane had run over a piece of metal debris from another aircraft, causing a tire to explode and ignite fuel in the wings.

The accident was not a failing of the Concorde itself, but it did provide the impetus for its eventual retirement. Both airlines were instructed to make safety modifications to the Concorde design which cost $150 million.

September 11 attacks

In a twist of fate, the first Concorde flight to test the new modifications landed in New York City moments before the first hijacked plane hit the World Trade Center. 

In the aftermath of the attacks, aircraft around the world were grounded indefinitely.

When aviation did return to some normality, the premium first-class market collapsed and consumer confidence in air travel was low. To compensate for reduced patronage and increased safety restrictions, most airlines had to cut costs to survive.

This did not come naturally to British Airways and Air France. The airlines, who had only recently spent $150 million, would never recoup their costs.

Airbus withdrew maintenance support soon after, signaling the end of commercial operations for both airlines.

Key Highlights

  • Concorde was a supersonic passenger airliner jointly developed by Sud Aviation and the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC).
  • It had a cruising speed of 1,350 miles per hour, allowing for extremely fast travel between destinations.
  • The presence of a sonic boom limited its routes to over open ocean areas, making it less commercially viable.
  • The Concorde’s fuel consumption was high, and it could only carry a limited number of passengers, making it less cost-effective than other aircraft.
  • Twelve airlines canceled their orders for the Concorde before its first commercial flight due to its limitations and challenges.
  • A fatal crash in 2000, caused by debris on the runway, led to safety modifications but also contributed to the decision to retire the Concorde.
  • The September 11 terrorist attacks further impacted the aviation industry, leading to a collapse in the first-class market and reduced consumer confidence in air travel.
  • British Airways and Air France, the two airlines operating Concorde, were unable to recover their costs and faced increased challenges in operating the aircraft.
  • The entire Concorde fleet was retired in 2003, and the aircraft is now found in museums around the world.

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