Concorde: In Its Time, A Techno-Marvel…
So Was The Erie Canal, Except It Really Did Affect Travel
The fifteenth anniversary has just been marked of the retirement of the Concorde supersonic airliner.
There’s media commentary on how it supposedly was a breakthrough in air travel, and today, half a century from when it first rolled out, and depending on which side of the Luddite table some are on, it’s supposed to be a warning regarding the economic impossibility future supersonic air transportation.
This is galaxies from reality.
Concorde was just a one-off, and commercially is not anything that is of value in discussing the potential of supersonic air transportation today.
The Concorde Lesson Has Zero To Do With Technology. Amid the adulation about this airplane as a techno-wonder, let’s grab a contrarian but accurate third-rail. The lesson of Concorde should be viewed for what it really is: Aside from being a flashy airliner, it was a gigantic example of an incompetent boondoggle.
And, in point of fact, Concorde (in the UK, there’s no “the”) really had minimal impact on future air travel… it was mostly a small sidebar. A curiousity. A near non-sequitur.
This is not to say that the machine wasn’t an enormous technological achievement for its time. But it was still a poorly-planned, market-incompetent boondoggle.
Yes, great publicity and a really cool Buck Rogers profile, but 14 machines that eventually entered service did little to substantively change the fundamentals of air transportation. It just cost the taxpayers in England and France enough money to do a full re-enactment of the Napoleonic Wars. British Airways and Air France might have made money on them, but that’s due to the fact that neither airline paid anywhere near market price to get them.
Concorde, truth be known, set no new trends, and resulted in zero competitive responses to the three airlines (yes, three) that actually operated it.
Aside from the technical-wonder-for-its-time aspects, the real message and real example of Concorde is that of out-of-control government hubris and “don’t-question-the-experts” thinking can lead to gigantic and embarrassing flops, building stuff that has no earthly connection to reality.
Gin Up A Story, And Stick With It. In fact, that is exactly the lesson Concorde represents. Today, it’s literally a chapter in a book titled, “Great Planning Disasters.” As a commercial project, it earned its place there.
Supposedly planned as a competitor and replacement for sub-sonic Boeing 707s and the like when it was first announced in 1962, Concorde was DOA from the gitgo. The market justifications could fill a shelf in the fiction section of Barnes & Noble.
Some will contend that the 1973 oil crisis killed off its orderbook, but the red pencils were at work well before that.
Today, Supersonic Is In The Works – And It’s Based On Economic Reality, Not National Hubris. Today, fifty years later, however, there is proven technology, a market place, and the economics in place to support a rationally-planned supersonic airliner program – or programs.
As the attendees at the 23rd Boyd Group International Aviation Forecast experienced, the Boom Supersonic 55-seat airliner is one such example. With rational understanding of airline economics, consumer trends, and use of existing technology, this is a machine that will change air transportation.
Virgin Atlantic seemed to think so. So does Japan Airlines. Ditto with China’s largest travel organization. These and other investors did not just fall off a turnip truck.
But, make no mistake, it – and other supersonic aircraft projects today – have no lineage or relationship to Concorde.
And no planning relationship, either.
A Point To Clear Up History… Oh, and the three operators, which most of the veneer media stories miss… were Air France, British Airways, and … Braniff, whose crews – cockpit and cabin and maintenance – operated the airplane on an interchange over IAD to DFW in 1979-1980.
Singapore and BA had a co-branded route from London to Singapore using Concorde, but it was operated entirely by British Airways cockpit crews and a combination of BA/SQ cabin staff.
And none of it made any money.
Starting This Month…
Airports:USA.com will feature a Forecast Flash regarding key trends in air traffic.
This month, we look at the projected growth at the 23 mainland US connecting hubsite airports.
Charlotte is a very interesting situation. Take a look at the future.