Toulouse - 50 years ago today, the first supersonic passenger airliner took off for the first time.
Supersonic flight was seen as the future of commercial aviation in the sixties. The Concorde, which was developed by British BAC (BAE Systems today) and Sud Aviation (Airbus today), was able to fly twice the speed of sound at Mach 2.04 (1,354 mph or 2,180 km/h) and arrive in New York from London in only 3.5 hours.
However, this time gain did not seem to outweigh the high fuel and maintenance costs of the Concorde. The supersonic plane was consuming three times more kerosene per seat than the Boeing 747, which made its debut in the same year, in 1969.
Sixteen airlines around the world placed orders for the Concorde. Pan Am, BOAC, and Air France were the launch customers, with six aircraft for each company. Other airlines in the order book, were respectively Panair do Brasil, Continental Airlines, Japan Airlines, Lufthansa, American Airlines, United Airlines, Air India, Air Canada, Braniff, Singapore Airlines, Iran Air, Olympic Airways, Qantas, CAAC Airlines, Middle East Airlines, and TWA. But in the end, only Air France and British Airways put the aircraft into service.
The global economic crisis in 1973-74, had made many airlines cautious about aircraft because of its high fuel consumption and maintenance costs. On the other hand, Boeing's new superjumbo had recently made subsonic aircraft remarkably more efficient for airlines.
Tickets were also quite expensive. During its service time, the aircraft served mainly to wealthy passengers who can afford it. For instance, the round-trip ticket price from New York to London was $7,995 ($12,500 today when the inflation is taken into account) more than 30 times the cost of the cheapest flight on that route.
British Airways advertisement: 'Habit-forming', from the year 1980, featuring British actor Robert Morley with Concorde.
The Anglo-French consortium was predicting a market for 350 aircraft by 1980 but built only twenty copies, including six prototypes. The manufacturer stopped the production of the aircraft in 1979.
Air France and British Airways stopped their operations with Concorde in 2003, three years after the fatal accident in Gonesse, France.
Air France Flight 4590
On 25 July 2000, Air France Flight 4590 crashed just after taking off from Paris-Charles de Gaulle, killing all 100 passengers and 9 crew members on board and four people on the ground. This was the only accident in the history of the iconic supersonic jet.