Concorde: 13 Years After Aircraft Disaster, British Airways Says Plane Isn't Coming Back

By Ben Wolford on October 24, 2013 4:03 PM EDT

A model of the Concorde jet, which British Airways says won't fly again.
A model of the Concorde jet, which British Airways says won't fly again.

Next month will mark a decade since the retirement of the Concorde, the supersonic jetliner whose iconic crash triggered its demise. This week, British Airways told the BBC: It will never fly again.

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The horrific image of a commercial airplane leading a tail of flames on takeoff made the Concorde infamous. Now 13 years after the crash that precipitated British Airways and Air France grounding the craft, an airline spokesperson says the same safety fears will keep any new Concorde out of the sky.

"We firmly believe that the technical and safety challenges of returning a Concorde to the skies are absolutely prohibitive," the spokesperson said. 

But that's not stopping others from trying.

Aerion has been designing and testing its Supersonic Business Jet, a smallish plane that reaches a top speed of Mach 1.6, or about 1,200 mph. That means it can reach Paris from New York City in a little over four hours. A typical flight takes more than seven hours. The Supersonic Business Jet seats just 12 passengers, though.

Lockheed Martin has its own, bigger design it calls the Supersonic Green Machine. The concept, commissioned by NASA in 2010, has an ultra-sleek frame and includes a spoiler-looking wing in the back, which cuts the sonic boom that sleeping people on the ground never appreciate. The possible emergence of that kind of aircraft is 2030 or 2035, NASA says.

Twenty-five years seems to be the standard timeframe for a supersonic rollout. Boeing has been dabbling in studies about what the future of commercial air travel might hold. Its Icon II concept could carry as many as 120 passengers and cruise at nearly twice the speed of sound, 1,370 mph. But these kinds of supersonic concepts may be impractical for other reasons than just safety. Boeing says eco-friendly, slower-than-sound technology "is a clear winner." Hybrid electric engines, they found, could cut fuel use by half.

With renewed supersonic commercial travel a long way off and the decade anniversary of its end approaching, pilots and passengers are sharing memories of their experience moving faster than sound waves.

"The sun was rising in the west. The evening Concorde departure from Heathrow had chased the sunset and eventually overtaken it. The magnificent aircraft with its sensuous delta curves roared into Kennedy airport 90 minutes before it had taken off, local time," writes Simon Calder of his 1986 flight in The Independent.

Pilot Jock Lowe flew the Concorde longer than anyone else during the plane's 27-year lifespan. According to the BBC, there are more American astronauts than there are former Concorde pilots.

"No military plane came anywhere close. It was so maneuvrable, and there was so much spare power, even ex-fighter pilots weren't used to it," he told the BBC.

Meanwhile, there's at least one organization, called Save Concorde Group, clamoring for a return of the Concorde. They say the plane's retirement was entirely political.

"Fundamentally, there remains no technical reason whatsoever why Concorde cannot fly again as has been stated previously by our team of former BA and Air France Concorde engineers," said Ben Lord, the group's chairman, in a statement.

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