Could The Concorde Once Again Take To The Skies?

As an aviation geek, one of my biggest regrets is not having flown the Concorde. I suppose it’s not really a regret, since 12 years ago I wasn’t in a position to get myself a seat on the Concorde. If only I had gotten started in this hobby a few years earlier!

Concorde

It does sort of amaze me that the Concorde began flying nearly 50 years ago, yet in the meantime we haven’t been able to build another plane which can reach supersonic speeds.

For that matter, I’m not sure I’d see as much value in the Concorde nowadays as in the past, given that flat beds and wifi are quickly becoming the norm in premium cabins on international flights. The opportunity cost of a redeye between New York and London decreases significantly when you can get “real” sleep the whole way, and in the other direction wifi at least helps people stay connected to the world.

Anyway, while I figured it wasn’t out of the question that we’d see supersonic travel in the next few decades, I never expected we’d see the day where the Concorde flies again. But that’s exactly what one group is trying to do.

Via The Telegraph, Club Concorde is trying to bring the plane back into service. The group has two goals.

First of all, Club Concorde wants to get the Concorde which is presently on display at Orly Airport to London, where it would be on a platform near the London Eye:

Drawing from a £40 million investment, the club is aiming to purchase a Concorde currently stationed near Orly Airport in Paris and to place it as the main draw in a £16-a-head London tourist attraction that would include a restaurant offering dishes that were originally served on Concorde flights. Club president Paul James hopes the plane could be on display by 2017.

But that’s the less lofty of the two goals. More interestingly, the group hopes to purchase another Concorde and use it for air shows and special events, charters, etc.:

Getting Concorde back in the air would be rather more complex. The club has access to an additional reserve fund worth £120 million and plans to use this revenue to purchase a Concorde currently on display at Le Bourget airport in Paris. When restored (and dressed in an entirely new, neutral livery) and deemed safe to again take to the skies, the plane would be deployed for use in fly-pasts at air shows and made available for corporate and special events, as well as for private charter.

While that sounds nice in theory, logistically I just don’t see how that could happen:

  • The biggest cost here isn’t even purchasing the Concorde, but rather operating it. It’s an outrageously expensive plane to fly, so I have a hard time imagining there are many air shows, charters, etc., which could afford to foot the bill for the plane.
  • How would maintenance for the plane work? Presumably technicians would need to be trained again on the plane, spare parts would be needed, etc.; I assume this would add considerably to the cost.

Bottom line

Trying to move one of the Concordes to the London Eye seems like a cool project, and one which is realistic. That being said, I have a very hard time imagining that the Concorde will ever take to the skies again.

What do you think — is there any chance we’ll see the Concorde fly again?

Comments

  1. Lucky, you;re 1-1.5 years older than I and I too have the same regret that I never got to fly the Concorde. I personally don’t see this club being successful in raising all that capital. The reality is that supersonic travel costs a lot of money and most people aren’t willing to cough up the money for it. I could however see the private aviation market move to faster (rather than supersonic) travel.

  2. Well, we COULD build another supersonic aircraft! It’s just the cost-benefit analysis isn’t worth it for those involved.

  3. Same regret.

    It’s interesting to note that the 747 and Concorde both had their first flights in 1969. The 747 was 16x more fuel efficient than the Concorde.

  4. HANDS DOWN my biggest travel regret…Twice I had the opportunity to take Concord flights and talked myself out of it both times [justifying the tkt was possible, but probably not the smartest move]…And who could imagine that –1– accident would start a chain reaction of ending the service…

  5. Doubt they will let toy fly using miles, points and other sleight of hand. Are you going to cough up thousands to fly in that plane?

  6. Highly unlikely that the Concord will ever fly again.

    Might still be a small marked for super sonic travel in the near future, either in the form of Biz Jets or commercially something like the London City-NYC narrow body route.

    Biggest problem is sonic booms over land, meaning that super sonic flights have to take place over water.

    Long term Elon Musk has talked about the possibility of an electric powered super sonic jet that could travel high enough that sonic boom would not be a problem over land. Because it would be powered by electric fans it could go higher than engines running on jet fuel without the lower oxygen leading to problems with running the engines. Would need a serious break true in battery technology and due to the height it would flying at would probably need a space craft like cabin.

  7. Cost wise would it be more expensive than same Vulcan X558, the issue I guess may be that the Vulcan to the Skies project used up all the spare parts as didn’t they share the same olympus engine?

  8. Lucky,

    I work for Siemens corporate and we have annual retreat in Austria where we relax and have fun. All upper level execs from around the world come. Siemens spends 150M for that weekend alone. Large corporations can and will afford to fly it for charters… some do not even ask for the price they just sign where needed

  9. 12 years to this day BOAE flew me back to London, just as she had done four days earlier the other way round. I think BA and AF were rather too hasty in phasing out all Concordes, but as you state the costs of operating them is too high. No crew is rated anymore I guess. Be realistic, this plan won’t work.

  10. My only hope is that Richard Branson may pull off something similar to the good ole Concorde days. The Concorde was about saving time, terrific service and easy access to and from the Terminal. Now going to the JFK Concorde Lounge is just a reminder of what is sorely missed.

  11. Now I don’t want to be a pedant but Concorde did not enter service “nearly 50 years ago”. I am sure you’re aware the first flight was in 1969 and the first passenger flight, which I would consider entering service, 1976.

    I was born in 1976 and I am therefore fast approaching my 40th birthday for this reason alone I feel that “50 years” statement needs to be backed away from immediately.

    Other than that this was a good read!. I too regret never having had the opportunity to fly in the aeroplane. I still remember the wonderful noise it made when flying over London, numerous airshows in the 80s and 90s where a Concorde flypast was as much a highlight as the Red Arrows, a Lancaster or numerous Spitfires. Finally, etched into my mind are couple of times when one would come into land just as I was travelling on the M25 passed Heathrow with the beautiful plane swooning in front of the car, taking up the whole windscreen. It really was a fantastic aircraft and one of the most if not the most beautiful ever built. It was a sad day when I stood on a car park roof at Heathrow watching them all come into land for the last time.

  12. I have flown the Concord many times –back in the “olden days” you could buy an around the world ticket first class starting in HK for around US$4500– all the seats were the same -NARROW- and not much leg room – sure you would always see famous people on the flight sothat gave it the “snob” appeal

    They gave out special Cross pens in a leather binder– the service was excellent — if it was winter you checked your coat on a rolling rack and did not see it till you arrived – I seem to remember when it would land the terminal was always empty and U.S. CUSTOMS never stopped anyone ! -Back then many a times I would “down grade” to BA first class as it was more relaxing and comfortable — you can not compare the first class back then with today – Today’s first class is about 70% of what it was when Concord was flying

  13. My uncle works for Pratt & Whitney in Toulouse and used to fly it regularly across the pond. He says he ended up preferring regular aircraft in business class, just coz of the legroom. The Concorde had immaculate service but he’s a 6’6″ Kiwi and the personal space just didn’t cut it.

  14. Sadly, the Concorde was never updated because BA and Air France were busy raking in the huge profits during its heyday and there was a rush to get the plane flying due to the money already spent in development. Rolls Royce had already revised the Olympus to be significantly more efficient and quieter (back in 1974 mind you – the Mk622) but BA and AirFrance were not that interested in re-engining though Rolls Royce was more than eager. New aerodynamic enhancements such as a slight droop in a portion of the wing (back in the 70s also) had been developed to save even more fuel but again no interest. In short, they ran it into the ground. Engine technology and computer-aided aerodynamic improvements today would probably make the old girl burn half of what she used to burn.

    https://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1974/1974%20-%200593.html
    http://www.concordesst.com/concordeb.html

  15. I flew it during it’s farewell tour, from Toronto Pearson to JFK. Without a doubt one of my most memorable experiences. I even flew in from Munich to Toronto to make the flight and nearly didn’t make it due to a missed connection. Quite a day, all in all!

    I described the experience here on Quora: http://qr.ae/RoY2Gs

  16. I definitely HAVE the regret! I was scheduled to fly a BA Concorde all of 5 days after the Air France one went down. Alas, they downgraded me to first class on BA. (not that it was hard duty there) I wanted to experience that flight and see the earth from that high. Ah well… Should a super sonic fly again, I would probably jump at the chance to experience it, even if it may not be the same as a lay flat overnight flight in terms of comfort.

  17. Would be cool if it were to happen, but my concern is how many people are left in the world who would be able to fly this bird? Ex AF and BA pilots who are still physically fit to fly, and that’s about it.

  18. Of course, it’s a delightful idea to be able to travel THAT fast. However, there were good reasons the fleet was grounded. Yes, they had a relative fuel efficiency that makes SUVs seem downright green. But there will always be a handful of people willing to pay enough for the special something of supersonic flight. Instead, think about the percentages: sure, just one in-service hull loss, but that was 8% of the fleet (12 were in service). Compare that to 6 hull losses of about 1800 777s (only 3 of which had fatalities). Ask yourself what insurance company is going to take that risk at a price that makes service viable?

  19. Ben, it’s a non starter, one of the main reasons they stopped flying was that the manufacturers would no longer support it. The French equivalent of the FAA would not issue a permit to fly

  20. No aircraft manufacturer will pursue new projects for supersonic aircraft because no matter how good the technology is, customers (airlines) don’t want them. The fuel cost of supersonic travel is just not viable given how much more efficient non-supersonic engines will always be. Sure, a new version would be far more efficient than the Concorde, but that’s not a relevant comparison – it’s a question of how the fuel costs would compare to a 777 or 787 / A350. Airlines can’t make enough incremental money or charge high enough prices to justify the additional fuel cost versus regular commercial travel.

    The battery idea is interesting though – if fuel costs are removed from the equation and operational costs aren’t significantly higher versus non-supersonic travel maybe it could become viable again but that feels many decades away at best.

  21. I don’t believe Concorde will fly again. But I think that there would be demand for supersonic flight if they could build an aircraft that would address the boom issues and have the range/fuel burn to be economically viable on very long haul routes. Like London->Singapore or Los Angeles->Tokyo (or even Sydney). I am sure there are business travelers who would pay a premium to do those flights in only 6 or 7 hours.

  22. Years ago, Tom Parsons’ Best Fares site posted that British Airways was offering a discounted fare for their JFK-Barbados Concorde flight. I jumped on it. It was something I just had to do. I saved the BA crystal champagne glass (although it has since broken) and still have my eticket receipt.

  23. Back in 1992 at the age of 12 I had the pleasure of flying on Concorde (not ‘the’ Concorde). One of the most memorable experiences I’ve had – Mach 2 at 11 miles altitude, seeing the deep blue sky and curvature of the earth, and getting a visit to the flight deck whilst at twice the speed of sound. I recollect touching the fuselage in the cockpit where it stretches and feeling how hot it was. I still have some ‘acquired’ momentos from the flight 🙂

  24. I’d like to say yes, but I know they couldn’t. It’s a shame. Concorde has always been important to me. It’s the reason I started towards my private pilots licence, it has that “odour” of flying past. In 2003 I was young, and I regret not flying her. I wrote letters as a kid to BA begging for her back. I’ve met the one at duxford (prototype I believe), Alpha Charlie at Manchester (ofcourse the best one), and Alpha Delta in New York. I also universitied in the city where the Filton planes were built, and along with the rest of the city, felt pride in those beasts. I held my breath when “Concorde to the skies” talked about having one flying for 2012, fully well knowing the unlikelyhood of that (us Brits probably are getting good at feeling cynical at unforfilled promises). I even spent my time on Google Earth circa 2005, when the most recent imagarg showed 3 of them at gates in Heathrow, and dreamed. The plane is important, and I love it, I think we all are forced to. But the time has gone, that plane is over now. It’s been a while since it flew now. Oh well.

  25. I also regret not flying on the Concorde. However, you can visit a BA Concorde that is on display at Grantley Adams Airport in Barbados.

    They have a mock-up of the Concorde lounge as it looked at Heathrow – it was separate and exclusive to Concorde passengers – as well as lots of memorabilia. But for me the high point was going inside the aircraft, seeing the cockpit and the cabin layout. You can even kick the tires (discreetly, of course.)

    When the Concorde was still flying, BA had a flight from Heathrow to Barbados and back. I remember sitting on the beach in Barbados and watching this beautiful plane coming in for a landing. There would be a bit of a hush as everyone stopped to look up at this magnificent aircraft.

    If you ever needed an excuse to go to Barbados (and who needs an excuse?) this is it. Check it out at http://www.barbadosconcorde.com/

    BTW, I was told that BA still owns the plane, and comes in periodically to do maintenance on it.

  26. I personally think there is demand for SST travel. With regard to sonic boom 2/3 rd of the planet is over water. With the growth in Asia now I do believe there are many flights which are just to long to be ideal for a business traveller.

    You could easily charge 15000 usd to do Singapore to LAX in 7 hours.

    I would also point out Concorde always made a operating profit and used to account for 20-30 percent of BA’s total profit.

  27. I don’t have the regret – I spanked IIRC about 120,000 Air Miles (the precursor to Avios) for 2 one-way LHR-JFK & am delighted I did.

    It was wonderful, it was quick, it was drunken & it was cramped – but for ~3 hours, I could live with that! Plus when I got to JFK customs & immigration was empty so we sailed through.

    One other thing, it’s Concorde, not the Concorde.

  28. In the early days of FlyerTalk, Randy was giving away miles for subscriptions to WebFlyer — of course the early community immediately figured out how many subs were needed for a Concorde redemption. It’s worth a google search to get full story.

    Very briefly Concorde flights were operated by BN on DFW-IAD — it was a rather rare interchange agreement but note in the linked article it “often flew with only 15 pax”. Neat idea but not real profitable.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Braniff_International_Airways#Concorde_SST

  29. Oh man – I too would have loved to have flown on the Concorde but I would’ve been about 11 year old and not thinking about that kind of thing.

    I do think that there’s probably enough very rich people in the world willing to pay for the novelty of a flight like that to make it a kind of exclusive opportunity (kind of like going to “space” with a private space agency) – but of course that’d make the cost prohibitive to most of us aviation geeks in that case. Still, I have hope.

  30. Add me in to the list of people who wish they’d flown Concorde when it was still flying. I know several people who have flown it and said it was cramped, but service was absolutely phenomenal. As was the flight time. I’m sorry to see it go with no viable replacement — it’s one of the few things I’d be willing to actually spend cash on in air travel.

  31. I’m in Nick’s club in the “I wish I hadn’t been so young club.” Were I the total AV geek I am now I would have enjoyed it even more than I did…though like most AV geeks even as a child I was utterly fascinated by everything aviation. I was just a kid when my family and I flew AFR001 and back on AFR002. I don’t know when it discontinued service to Barbados as it’s my family’s main holiday destination (though a flight from CDG wouldn’t have served us much purpose). The good thing about having flown it so young is the seats (which would be very tight for my 6’2 frame today) seemed rather large back then. It sounds horrible I know to say that even as a child never once have I had to fly long distance coach (as an adult I’ve had to put up wth commuter seating on a EMB 120 thunder-chicken or even worse a CRJ-200 hop to LAS…yuck). But in all fairness the seats on Concorde weren’t much larger than Main Cabin “Extra” looks like (or whatever they’re trying to label Coach-plus these days…). I do however remember the service being beyond top-notch and it was pre-9/11 so I got to see the cockpit more than once, even in flight. Those were the days…

  32. As someone who flys repeatedly between NY and London each month, I’m desperate for a supersonic flight again. You either fly in-day back, and lose a day, or fly overnight, get a terrible night sleep (I always fly First BA) even with the so called true bed, because you don’t get enough sleep and it’s of poor quality. The idea I can leave in the early evening, and be back before midnight in London means I can get a proper nights sleep before work the next morning.

    I’d happily pay £20k a flight for this privilege as the time is easily worth it. The problem the aviation industry has is cost. It’s all focused around cheap flights as those with money will fly private. This simply isn’t true for long haul flights. I always fly commercial on long haul as the service is so much better, on short/domestic I fly private. In terms of ground service, I pay for the VIP service so I don’t have to worry about customs/baggage claim etc. meaning it’s the same as flying private on long haul.

    When the industry wakes up and realises there is a market, certainly for Atlantic travel, on a super fast flight, they’ll do something, until then, it’s all about cut costs and cheap flights.

    Please, someone bring back four flight supersonic each day between London and NY!

  33. As much as I’d love to see the concorde fly again.

    I don’t want them to steal (buy) our concorde(s).

    Why don’t they take the BA ones ?

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