British, French to end Concorde service


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British, French to end Concorde service

British, French to end Concorde service
Associated Press

LONDON - Concorde, the chic needle-nosed jet that has flown stars and tycoons across the Atlantic at supersonic speeds and stratospheric cost for a quarter century, will be retired this year, its British and French operators said Thursday.

British Airways and Air France, the only two airlines to operate Concorde, said they will take the glamorous but hugely expensive jets out of service by the end of October because of falling passenger demand and rising maintenance costs.

Air France, which has five Concordes, said its last scheduled flight would be on May 31, and the program would shut down at the end of October.

"Never has such a beautiful object been designed and built by man," said Air France President Jean-Cyril Spinetta at a news conference. "This aircraft is not going to stop because it continues to live on in the human imagination."

The retirement of the service "will be permanent as of October this year," British Airways spokeswoman Sara John said. The carrier, which has seven of the white, delta-wing jets, didn't give a date for its last scheduled flight, but said it would be toward the end of October.

"It's a sad day in many ways," British Airways' chief executive, Rod Eddington, told British Broadcasting Corp. radio. "Concorde changed the nature of commercial aviation. It revolutionized the way people traveled around the world."

But Eddington said passengers were no longer willing to pay the $9,300 regular fare for a round trip across the Atlantic in supersonic time.

"If you're laying people off and telling people in your business to tighten your belt, senior executives then find it inconsistent to go to the airport and get on Concorde rather than subsonic aircraft," he said.

He added that the air carrier would not sell its Concordes to a commercial operator.

"Concorde had terrific beginnings. We're determined that she finishes on a high note, and Concorde will then end up in museums," he said in a conference call.

Air France blamed the retirement on falling demand, linked to the global downturn in the aviation industry, and rising maintenance costs for the aging fleet.

"This decision is motivated by deteriorating economic results ... observed over the past months and which accelerated since the beginning of the year," Air France said in a statement.

The Concorde flies faster than any other commercial aircraft, racing between Europe and New York in under four hours. Its fastest New York-London crossing was completed in just 2 hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds.

Eddington said the decision to retire Concorde after 27 years of commercial service was not connected to possible safety fears arising from a crash outside Paris that killed 113 people in 2000.

"We have complete safety at Concorde, complete confidence in its ability to fly safely," he said.

On July 25, 2000, an Air France jet, spewing flames, crashed into a hotel outside Paris minutes after takeoff from Charles de Gaulle airport. All 100 passengers, mostly German tourists, were killed along with the nine crew members and four people on the ground.

An investigation concluded that the Concorde crashed after a tire was punctured by a stray metal strip on the runway, propelling pieces of rubber into the fuel tank and igniting a fire.

Air France and British Airways grounded their fleets and revamped the planes to address safety concerns. The luxury aircraft was returned to service in November 2001.

Since then, there have been several small mishaps, both with Concordes owned by British Airways and Air France.

Concorde was a spectacular wrong turn for Europe's aviation industry, which went for speed while allowing Boeing and other American manufacturers to dominate the lucrative market for the big subsonic jets which made air travel a mass phenomenon.

Concorde's development started in 1962 when the British Aircraft Corp. and Sud Aviation of France agreed to cooperate. The following year, Pan Am, British Overseas Airways Corp. and Air France all signed options on the Concorde.

Beverly Shenstone, technical director of British Overseas Airways Corp., predecessor of British Airways, called Concorde "the largest, most expensive and most dubious project ever undertaken in the development of civil aircraft."

Options for 74 Concordes were sold by 1967, British Overseas Airways Corp., Air France, Pan Am, American Airlines, TWA, Eastern Airlines, United Air Lines, Air Canada, Qantas, Japan Air Lines, Lufthansa, Continental, Braniff, Air India, Middle East Airlines and Sabena.

But when final orders were placed in 1972, British Airways took five planes and Air France took four. And that was it.

Britain and France produced 16 planes, in addition to four prototypes that were quickly retired, and British Airways and Air France took the unsold planes in 1979.

Concorde entered commercial service on Jan. 21 1976, with a British Airways flight from London to Bahrain, and an Air France flight from Paris to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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It's too bad; I had always wanted to fly the Concorde; but being a part time professional tire dude, I would have to eat nothin but s*** and gravy for at least a year to score a round-trip ticket.

I think what always amazes me about the Concorde is that people can travel from North/South America to Europe in hours, while it took 15th century explorers months to cross the Atlantic. Do you think they ever would have dreamed of "supersonic transatlantic flight" 500 years in the future?

It also makes you wonder what's next: Will people one or two hundred years from now say, "Wow, it used to take three whole hours just to get from New York to Paris." It's always exciting to think about what lays ahead in the future of aviation and travel.