“I've always thought of the Concorde as a magical object, a symbol, a miracle,” the French designer Andree Putman told The New York Times of her collaboration with the Air France Concorde in the 1990s. Putnam helped overhaul the look of the plane’s interior as part of a rebranding campaign.
In the 2010 documentary Concorde’s Last Flight, Captain Jack Lowe, the Concorde chief pilot, called it “the airliner of the future.” The English designer Sir Terence Conran, who led the £14 million interior redesign in 2001 said, “It symbolized optimism, it was everything that the 20th century could have stood for.” During a century of progressive industrialization—light bulbs, cars, television, not to mention computers and the Internet—it became clear that technological advancements were more than national progress, they were the source of national pride. For this reason, said Stebbing, “Concorde was phenomenally successful.” British and French citizens were proud of their national airlines’ prized fleets; even pilots waved national flags out of the cockpit windows while on the runway. Thousands of people—civilians who would never likely board the aircraft—attended takeoffs and landings simply to admire the show, flags in hand. Paparazzi waited for celebrities on the runway. Even today, Save Concorde Group has nearly 2,000 Facebook fans and over 4,000 Twitter followers.
There are many theories about the reasons for Concorde’s demise. One of the big ones: money. “Technological advancements are still guaranteed by big military spending—Concorde’s engines came from military aircrafts,” said Ivory. “But Concorde was never economically viable.”
The project ultimately cost British and French taxpayers over $1.5 billion even prior to operation by the airlines, which some still consider a drastic underestimate. Capital costs were written off by government subsidies, and elevated national pride justified high taxes. Self-selecting passengers who could afford fares represented operating costs, thus contributing to the illustrious Concorde aura. Still, Concorde’s first six years ran at a loss, launching an initiative to rebrand, introducing a new fare structure. Early on, one-way tickets from JFK to Heathrow were roughly $1,500; by the 2000s, $7,000 was standard, and $10,000 round-trip was a deal. “In its heyday, BA was making 30 [to] 50 million pounds per year in operating profit, but it was not financially sustainable after 30 years of service,” Stebbing said.
Money aside, Concorde had other challenges. Noise and environmental concerns shrunk the open skies. Many countries banned it from their airspace because of the loud sonic boom it produced. As a result, nearly half the planned routes, notably those over land, were off-limits. The crucial “Blue Ribbon” route between New York and London was miraculously approved in 1977. Whereas most Concorde takeoffs and landings were warmly attended, others became protest sites, with signs reading: “Ban the Boom” and “Save the Ozone Layer.” The Anti-Concorde Project founder Richard Wiggs was the face of this movement, publishing advertisements, organizing demonstrations, and calling Concorde “elitist and inherently unsafe.” Aviator Charles Lindbergh, the first to fly transatlantic in 1927, became an active environmentalist later in life and lobbied against supersonic travel. Ozone emissions and atmospheric pollution were the greatest environmental concerns and turmoil over the loud, disruptive boom that had the power to break windows were constant contentions. Today, new Quiet Supersonic Transport technology might solve the noise issue, at least.