Can Plan to Fly Concorde Again Get off the Ground?
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An Anglo-French project, the Concorde first entered service in 1976. One of only two supersonic passenger aircraft ever produced, it crossed the Atlantic in three hours at 1,370 miles per hour — almost twice the speed of sound. Click on for a look back at the plane’s captivating — and tragic — history.
The aviation world is abuzz with reports that a group of Concorde fans may have raised enough money to get the historic supersonic jet back in the skies once again.
According to the Telegraph newspaper, “Club Concorde” has raised £120 million ($186 million) for its “return to flight” plan and hopes to get one of the decommissioned aircraft back in the skies by 2019.
The group describes itself as “ex-captains, ex-charterers and people passionate about Concorde, working together to keep Concorde in people’s hearts and minds.”
Club Concorde says it has its sights on two Concordes — both in France.
“The plan would be to purchase one of the Concorde and operate her as a private, heritage aircraft under neutral livery,” says the club on its website.
“All restoration to flight costs would be borne by Club Concorde International who would also finance the construction of maintenance/display hangars at both the French and UK bases.”
Is this even possible?
Even if the enthusiasts have the money, putting a decommissioned plane back in the skies takes more than just capital.
“The greatest obstacle is the refusal by the aircraft’s manufacturer — formerly British Aerospace-Aerospatiale, now Airbus — to lend its support to a restoration,” said aviation journalist David Kaminski-Morrow, air transport editor of Flightglobal.com..
“Concorde is an immensely complex supersonic aircraft and the Civil Aviation Authority in the UK will not entrust the safe upkeep of its airframe and systems to a group of enthusiasts, regardless of their passion, without this technical support in place.
“If it isn’t there, the aircraft won’t be allowed to fly. It’s as simple as that.”
Airbus told CNN it had not received any requests from the Concorde group about providing support.
“Therefore, we don’t want to speculate on either the project or project feasibility,” a spokesperson said.
Kaminski-Morrow points to issues faced by an initially successful effort to restore an Avro Vulcan to flight.
Though the aircraft, which shares some of Concorde’s DNA but is nowhere near as complicated, was able to return to the skies, it suffered a withdrawal of technical backing and had to be grounded earlier this year, he said.
“British Airways looked into keeping a single Concorde operating, for heritage purposes, but could not justify the expense,” he said.
“When you bear in mind that BA didn’t have the problems of finding an operational aircraft and gathering engineering, maintenance, piloting and training resources, it puts the enthusiasts’ workload in perspective.”
Finding a suitable aircraft
Sourcing a suitable Concorde will also be extremely difficult, added Kaminski-Morrow.
“Some have been treated better than others, but even the best-condition aircraft will need extensive maintenance checks and possible modification to bring it into line with civil aircraft mandates introduced since the end of Concorde service.
“Concorde was a unique aircraft type that demanded tailored parts, systems, maintenance techniques, and so on, and so few aircraft were built that there isn’t a vast pool of spares and engines to raid.”
Even if a suitable aircraft is identified, there’s the matter of obtaining it, said Kaminski-Morrow.
“British Airways has steadfastly refused to entertain the possibility because it’s not on the side of the enthusiasts,” said Kaminski-Morrow. “Concorde is part of its image and it doesn’t want to hand over this iconic part of its history to well-meaning tinkerers, especially those whose desire to see the aircraft fly is clouding their judgment over the extent and nature of the associated problems — of which money is arguably the least difficult to overcome.”
Meanwhile, the Musee de l’Air et de l’Espace issued a statement Sunday saying its Concordes are as much a part of French heritage as the Mona Lisa or the Palace of Versailles, aren’t for sale at any price and won’t fly again.
No shortage of demand, says expert
Procurement and maintenance challenges aside, aviation expert Tom Ballantyne, chief correspondent for the magazine Orient Aviation, says that if the group is actually able to purchase a Concorde, the plane itself will likely be mechanically sound.
“British Airways once stripped one of their Concordes back to bare bones after years of service and found it was in perfect condition with no wear and tear at all,” he said.
“Given it gets proper restoration there shouldn’t be any issue getting it passed by the regulators. While the plane did have that dreadful crash with Air France that’s not why it was taken out of service.
“Essentially it simply became uneconomic when the price of fuel skyrocketed to record levels. Concorde is a real gas guzzler.”
In terms of flight restrictions, Ballantyne said the group would face the same issues as airlines did when the plane was in commercial service: noise.
“Because of the sonic boom it will only be able to fly at supersonic speed over the oceans, in other words unpopulated areas,” he said.
“There will also be restrictions at many airports because a Concorde is very noisy.”
Ballantyne says the Concorde could do well if it’s used as part of a charter business.
“Both British Airways and Air France used it for charters when it was in service. There are plenty of rich Americans (and others) who’ll pay good money for a round the world trip on a Concorde.”
For a look back at the plane’s captivating history, click through the above gallery.
The first Concorde, the 001, was rolled out in 1967. This file photo taken on February 25 1968 at France’s Toulouse-Blagnac airport shows the plane in front of an engine-testing system
The Concorde is seen here taking its maiden flight on March 2, 1969, over France. Before its inaugural commercial flight in 1976, Concorde had 5,000 hours of testing, making it the most vetted aircraft in history. A test pilot sent by the U.S. government said it “could be the safest airplane ever built.”
In all, 20 Concordes were manufactured — 10 in Britain and 10 in France — although the original plan was for 300. Of these, 14 entered commercial service. The original Concorde prototype is seen here on display at the 1969 airshow in Paris.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Crowds view the supersonic jet at an airfield in Bristol, England, in 1971. By 1972, the plane’s future looked bright. More than a dozen airlines had placed orders and the French and British governments expected to recoup their $3.5 billion development costs. But a year later, the Arab oil embargo prompted a steep rise in…
Courtesy Evening Standard/Getty Images
Eventually, the British and French governments were forced to write off the cost of Concorde’s production and virtually give the plane to British Airways and Air France. Elegant, fast and luxurious, Concorde was one of only two supersonic planes to have entered commercial service (the other being the Tupolev Tu-144). T…
JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images/File
One of the Concorde’s most distinctive features? The “droop nose,” which sunk down five degrees for take-off and 12.5 degrees for landing. Without that capability, pilots wouldn’t have been able to see the runway.
JOEL SAGET/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
For 24 years Concorde had a perfect safety record, with services from London’s Heathrow and Charles de Gaulle in Paris to New York’s JFK. But a fatal July 2000 crash was the beginning of the end for the plane. All 109 passengers and crew and four people on the ground were killed when the Air France Concorde caught …
JEFF CHRISTENSEN/AFP/Getty Images
Services were withdrawn until November 2001, but confidence among passengers was never fully restored. The downturn in the airline industry, which started before the September 11 attacks, made Concorde an unaffordable expense. The last-ever commercial Concorde flight carrying fare-paying passengers arrived a…
Scott Barbour/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
A decommissioned Concorde sails down the River Thames, and past Britain’s Houses of Parliament, on April 13, 2004 in London. This 110-ton aircraft was sent to the National Museum of Flight in Scotland.
JOEL SAGET/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
How do you move a decommissioned supersonic jet? Very carefully. This picture taken in 2005 shows the F-PVFF Concorde being lifted as part of a move to its final destination — Charles de Gaulle Airport. Most of the existing Concorde planes can be found in aviation museums in Europe and the United States.
REMY GABALDA/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
This picture taken in March, 2014 shows the Concorde “MSN1,” as it’s transferred to the Aeroscopia aviation museum in Blagnac, southwestern France. One of the first Concorde jetliners built in Toulouse, France, it made its last flight in April 1985.
PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Air France Concorde F-BVFA is displayed at the Smithsonian Institute’s Udvar-Hazy Air & Space Museum in Chantilly, Virginia.
Ian Waldie/Getty Images
A group of British aviation fans claims to have raised enough money to buy a Concorde and get it back in the sky. According to aviation experts, it’s not an impossible dream — but it won’t be easy.