Supersonic aircraft are not coming back.

A few weeks ago, on March 2nd, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Concorde first taking flight. The whole world was excited about the arrival of commercial supersonic transport. The newest jet promised to reduce flying times between various destinations more than double. Additionally, top of the line service and luxurious cabin promised passengers the experience of a lifetime.

But the hype did not last long, as airlines and Concorde developers realized that the supersonic jet had a lot of issues. Sure, it was reliable and had an excellent safety record apart from the fatal Air France Flight 4509 accident. But the economics of the Concorde was too much to handle. So, when the circumstances shifted after the Paris accident, the September 11th attacks and the subsequent drop-off in passengers, Air France and British Airways retired the Concorde.

However, over the past few years reports have emerged that various start-ups are promising that a 3-hour flight between New York and London is making a comeback. Airlines, namely Virgin Atlantic and Japan Airlines are investing in Boom Aviation, which promises to revolutionize air travel. Meanwhile, Boeing is partnering with Aerion Supersonic to create a very slick supersonic business jet.

Boom Aviation Supersonic Aircraft Boom Aviation Supersonic Aircraft

Nevertheless, in this article post, we will argue why supersonic transport is not making a comeback. Firstly, we will take a look back at the past and why did airlines cancel the Concorde. Secondly, we will look into some of the flaws of a supersonic airliner that are almost impossible to overcome and thus draw a conclusion on why we won’t be breaching supersonic speeds anytime soon.

Waving goodbye to Concorde – Why?

So on November 26th, 2003 Concorde departed for its final flight from London Heathrow Airport to its resting home at Aerospace Bristol, an aerospace museum at Filton. Whenever someone asks why Concorde stopped flying across the Atlantic, the answer can be simplified into 5 pointers:

Air France Flight 4509 crash

Although previous to this the Concorde had 0 fatal accidents, the Paris crash discouraged passengers to travel on the supersonic jet. And with very tight profit margins, airlines simply could not afford to operate a Concorde at half capacity.

September 11th attacks

After the Air France Flight 4509 crash, aviation authorities grounded the supersonic aircraft to prevent any further loss of lives. As investigators concluded the reasons for the crash, Concorde’s manufacturers improved the jet’s safety for a price of £17m. Subsequently, Concorde returned to commercial service in November of 2001. However, just 2 months before, the September 11 attacks happened. As a result of the attacks, for a few years passenger numbers dropped drastically. This did not help Concorde, as it was already losing passengers because of the Air France Flight 4509 accident.

Economics of the Concorde

A return ticket from London’s Heathrow Airport to JFK in 2003 would start at £7405. To illustrate, British Airways concluded the last commercial Concorde flights on October 24th, 2003. If I was to book a return ticket from LHR to JFK with British Airways and I would return to London on the 24th of October, just 16 years later, I would pay £6437. Adjust the 2003 number for inflation and the Concorde ticket comes out to a jaw-dropping price of £11,500. That’s quite a difference for essentially save 4 hours on a flight. But the Concorde simply cannot compete against the first class cabin of a Boeing 747, the aircraft that British Airways operates on the route.