On 21 January 1976, 40 years ago to the day, Concorde embarked its first passengers on the first supersonic commercial flight, and just over six years after the initial test flight. It was the beginning of a supersonic story that would last 27 years.
Of the 17 companies that had ordered it in the 60’s, fifteen retracted. British Airways and Air France were the only ones not to have waived the supersonic; both subsequently acquired a total of seven units. For their first flight, the British company decided to open a new London – Bahrain route. The French company opened their Paris - Dakar - Rio de Janeiro route. On board the 100-seater aircraft, passengers had the choice of seats configured in double rows of two. There was no in-flight screening of films, but a choice of music was available.
Initially when the Concorde went into service, it had no authorization to land in the United States, due to fears that the noise of the Franco-British plane would have a detrimental environmental impact, although the ban was soon lifted.
On 24 May 1976, a British Airways Concorde, and another of Air France, landed simultaneously on two parallel runways at Washington Dulles Airport. Then, after 18 months of legal battles, came New York. Regular services from London and Paris to JFK airport were officially launched on 22 November 1977. Crossing the Atlantic took three hours and a half. New York was Concorde's top destination, which it served for years on a daily basis.
In the end, Concorde literally travelled the world: Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, Egypt, Pakistan, Russia, China, Singapore, Senegal, Finland, Australia, Switzerland... the list of countries where the supersonic landed was long, and from 1986, it was also used to carry out special world tour "charter" flights. The supersonic was also used for presidential flights. Amongst the many personalities who travelled aboard Concorde, to cite just a few, were French presidents Jacques Chirac and François Mitterrand, Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Diana and Prince Charles, Pope John Paul II, French film stars Alain Delon and Mireille Darc, singers Elton John and Sting.
Concerning occupants of the cockpit, three women have flown Concorde. Test pilot Jacqueline Auriol, British Airways captain Barbara Harmer, and Air France first officer Beatrice Vialle.
Despite its technological success, the undeniable beauty of its lines and its ability to fly at more than twice the speed of sound, the famous white bird, however, was limited by its modest range of less than 4,500 miles (7,200 kilometres), and number of passenger seats. Not to mention its fuel-guzzling appetite.
The Gonesse (close to Paris, France) accident, on 25 July 2000, which left 113 dead, accelerated the end of its career. All supersonics were grounded. Although they did briefly resume service on 7 November 2001, it was not to last long. Concorde was no longer able to make up its full complement of passengers. With its occupancy rate stagnating at around 30%, and maintenance costs becoming ever more expensive, Air France and British Airways therefore jointly decided to cut their losses. On 10 April 2003, both companies announced the shutdown of their Concorde operations.
The supersonic landed for the last time at Filton, in the UK, on 26 November 2003. The Concorde chapter was finally closed. Today, it has become a museum piece in France, the UK, the US, Germany, Scotland and Barbados.