It is symbolic of the malaise cloaking aviation as it celebrates the centennial of powered flight that, for the first time since Orville and Wilbur Wright made history in 1903, man-kind will have to settle for flying more slowly than before. Concorde, the airplane that opened supersonic flight to anyone with the means to buy a ticket, will retire this year after 27 years of service with British Airways and Air France.
A French judge last month ordered Continental Airlines and five people–including aircraft designers, maintenance technicians and one civil aviation authority executive–to stand trial for manslaughter in the criminal investigation into the Concorde crash that killed 113 in July 2000 near Paris.
That a bomber which first entered service in the late 1950s should still excite attention whenever it appears in the skies is obvious to those fortunate enough to see it, and those attending the Farnborough airshow on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday this week could share their experience.
More than 50 years ago, the English Channel coastline near Selsey Bill was the location of two record-setting flights, and now this south coast of England area, more than 40 miles from Farnborough International’s flying display, is the designated destination for pilots faced with what the organizers term a “pre-meditated ejection.”
British Airways (BA) flew a modified Concorde to Shannon, Ireland, on August 7 before conducting refresher crew-training operations last month. As many as 35 takeoffs and landings were to be flown as the airline prepared for a possible resumption of scheduled services, perhaps before next month.
Concorde, the Anglo-French supersonic airliner that is the flagship of British Airways and Air France, could become a victim of the current economic downturn. Almost exactly 34 years after its first flight and less than 18 months since the aircraft returned to service after being grounded following the July 25, 2000 accident in Paris, British Airways confirmed that it is reviewing Concorde’s future.
British and French authorities were expected to issue ADs for the grounded Concorde supersonic jetliners on August 28, some 13 months after the July 25 fatal crash of one of the SSTs. Subject to final modification work being completed (see story on page 58), British Airways could resume Concorde commercial flights to New York later this month, with Air France expected to follow suit next month.
Three companies have expressed serious interest in developing a supersonic business jet (SSBJ), but none of the designs proposed by Aerion, Sukhoi or Supersonic Aerospace International has reached the launch stage, making it unlikely that any will emerge as a flying prototype anytime soon.
Among the most eagerly awaited show participants listed in pre-Paris releases was the HAL Tejas–India’s Light Combat Aircraft. Two were originally on the list, of which one was due to fly in the air display. However, a new urgency has descended on the program, and the aircraft could not be spared from test flights.
If Concorde were the child of quarrelsome adults, the tabloids might label this a “tug of love,” but by whatever name it goes, British Airways seems to end up cast as the villain. When BA announced it would retire the supersonic transport in October 2003, Virgin Atlantic proprietor Sir Richard Branson seized the opportunity to embarrass his archrival by offering to buy and continue operating the aircraft.