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AIR TRAVEL Supersonic Concorde to be grounded



Published: Sun, April 13, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



The jets have been less than 20 percent full.

SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

For 34 years, the needle-nose Concorde supersonic transport has been an aviation marvel and jet-set favorite, zipping the rich and adventurous across the Atlantic in three hours at twice the speed of sound.

But it has fallen victim to the same dismal economy that has deeply wounded the major airlines, and at least for now, the era of supersonic commercial travel is ending.

British Airways announced Thursday it will stop flying its seven Concordes by the end of October. The world's only other supersonic carrier, Air France, said it would retire its five planes in May.

Costs

With a round-trip ticket from New York to London costing about $9,000, the two airlines failed to attract enough passengers willing to pay a premium for speed. In recent months, the thunderous four-engine jetliners have been less than 20 percent full, according to industry reports.

"It's a sad day for those of us in the industry," said Stuart Klaskin, an aviation consultant based in Miami, where British Airways flew Concordes until 1991. "The economics of the airplane make it very difficult to make it profitable."

The crash of an Air France Concorde in Paris in July 2000, killing 113, had little, if any, bearing on the plane being parked, aviation officials said. The 13 remaining SSTs simply were too expensive to maintain and operate.

A rather small airliner with 100 seats, the Concorde cruises at a blazing 1,350 mph, more than twice as fast as any other commercial airliner and faster than some military fighter jets.

As a result, it is a gas-guzzler.

Also, Klaskin said, British Airways and Air France might have helped speed the SST's demise by offering luxury first-class accommodations on wide-body jets, service more appealing to business travelers than the cramped Concorde.

The Japanese government is trying to develop a larger, faster version that would offer affordable seats by 2012. But that project recently suffered setbacks and could take much longer than expected to get off the ground, if at all.

NASA and Boeing also had envisioned an affordable SST that would have been called a high-speed civil transport, but shelved the idea because it wasn't economically feasible.




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