Why Was the Concorde Retired?

Almost 50 years ago, the first commercial supersonic jet was introduced into the world, revolutionizing air travel and opening a new chapter in the way people flew. Flying at 2 times the speed of sound and faster than the spin of the Earth, Concorde was a peak of innovation in aviation, and it allowed people to travel across the Atlantic Ocean in just 3 hours. Today, however, the time of flight for the same distance is double. In this sense, aviation seems to have taken a step backwards since the Concorde. If no level of innovation could match that of the Concorde, then why exactly was it retired?

1. Costs

One of the main factors in the retirement of the Concorde was the exorbitant price. Operating a supersonic jet required tons of fuel, and as a result, there were highly expensive operating costs for each flight. The most fuel-efficient consumption rate for the Concorde was at its cruising speed of twice the speed of sound, but even then, the Concorde still consumed 25625 liters of fuel per hour. Using the afterburners on the engine of the Concorde especially consumed high amounts of fuel in just a short period of time. Just taxiing to and from the gates cost the Concorde a shocking 2 tons of fuel. To cover the costs of fuel, airlines operating the Concorde had to charge unreasonably high airfares for passengers onboard. Since very few people could afford to spend so much money on a single flight, the Concorde wasn’t able to attract too many customers and generate profit for the airline. In addition to the operating costs, the Concorde also had high maintenance costs when it was on the ground.

A new era of supersonic flight is almost here. But nobody can agree on the  right speed | WIRED UK
Credit: Wired UK

2. Noise

Aside from the problems with operating the Concorde, there were also problems from the ground that contributed to its retirement. Concorde on-air produced extremely loud noises causing disturbance to the residences below. The roaring sounds from the Concorde received a lot of complaints from the ground, and it was even banned from flying over some areas. The noise from the Concorde was so loud that it could even sometimes damage the ears of people on the ground. Due to the noise complaints, the Concorde could only fly over water for most of its flight to limit the disturbance to civilians. This however did not prevent the Concorde from generating extremely loud noises that affected the people. Even in the cabin of the Concorde where the noise was less intense, flyers still felt uncomfortable from the loud noise. The Concorde was too loud to be used.

Listen To The Sonic Boom Of The Concorde At 60,000 Feet
Credit: Boss Hunting

3. Troubles in 2000 and 2001

Another important factor in the retirement of the Concorde was the crash of Air France Flight 4509 in 2000 and the 9/11 attacks in 2001. In 2000, the deadly crash of Air France’s Concorde claimed the lives of all 109 people on board and 4 more people on the ground. Although the Concorde had never crashed in its previous 31-year history, this incident greatly discouraged the public from flying the Concorde and made many people scared of the Concorde. Furthermore, about 1 year after the Concorde incident, the downing of several flights from the 9/11 attacks caused aviation to experience one of the lowest points in its history. Passenger demand for air travel was at an all-time low, and with the public’s fear of flying the Concorde, the aircraft barely received any customers. Even if there were customers for the Concorde, airlines would be losing money since they couldn’t afford to fly the Concorde at a partial capacity. All of these barriers to generating profit from the Concorde ultimately led to the retirement of the supersonic jet just 3 years after the fatal crash of Air France Flight 4509.

Air France Flight 4590 - Wikipedia
Credit: Wikipedia

Even though the Concorde was one of the most innovative inventions in aviation history, it was not worthwhile to operate. The high fuel costs, noise complaints, and low passenger demand were the main factors that ultimately led to the revolutionary jet’s demise. There were also a few other factors that contributed to the retirement of the Concorde, but they weren’t as significant as the ones listed here. The Concorde was already struggling to survive, and the incidents preceding its retirement were the final push to end the program. Today, the Concorde is a relic of the past; it sits in museums, reminding people of the supersonic jet age from the past.

Russia's Concorde and more at the Technik Museum Sinsheim - CNET - Page 21
Credit: CNET

Sources:

https://www.france24.com/en/20190301-concorde-technical-feat-financial-fiasco

https://www.quora.com/How-much-fuel-did-Concorde-use

https://old.thetravelinsider.info/2003/0411.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Concorde_Project

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_France_Flight_4590

https://www.aerotime.aero/23022-supersonic-aircraft-not-coming-back

Cover image: Simple Flying