- Buy 21 subscruptions to Inside Flyer magazine, earning 2500 Starwood points for each purchase
- Transfer those Starwood points to Qantas at 1:2 (with bonus, 20,000 Starwood points yielded 50,000 Qantas points back then)
- Qantas used to let you book Concorde for the same price as British Airways first class. Shortly thereafter Qantas increased the cost of premium cabin awards as much as 92%.
This was after Concorde’s one and only crash in 2000 but before its last flight in 2003.
Air France flight AF4590 punctured a tire running over a piece of metal from a Continental DC-10 that had taken off before it. The tire exploded, and rubber from the tire hit the plane’s fuel tank and caused a fire. With only one operational engine the plane couldn’t gain altitude.
Since the retirement of Concorde there’s been no supersonic commercial air travel. It had competitors – the Soviet Tupolov nicknamed Konkordski, and the Boeing 2707 SST which was never completed. The first production version of the Tupolov Tu-144 crashed at the Paris Air Show in 1973, supposedly the plane was built based on stolen planes from the French and Americans but they had been fed fake plans.
It’s amazing that Concorde entered commercial service as long ago as 1976 yet its Mach 2 speeds haven’t been matched by new aircraft since. But Concorde took about 8 times as much fuel per passenger mile as a conventional jet, and the sonic booms it generated created backlash from voters.
Only one U.S. airline ever operated Concordes — Braniff leased planes from British Airways and Air France and flew domestically in 1979 and 1980 at subsonic speeds from Dallas to Washington Dulles where BA and Air France crews would take over for the onward journey to London and Paris.
Supersonic travel is banned over the U.S. Period. There aren’t noise limits that technology can work towards. Instead, use of the technology over land no matter how quiet is simply against FAA regulations.
A July 2011 FAA presentation indicated an openness to revisiting these rules although one can expect significant lobbying against this — not just from noise opponents but from airlines that don’t wish to invest in the technology.
As a result of flight bans over land you can fly New York – London or San Francisco – Tokyo, but not New York – Tokyo (without giving up the speed advantage while flying over land).
However US regulations are about to loosen to allow it. New FAA proposed rules are expected to be unveiled by December.
Lockheed Martin Corp. last month won a $247.5 million contract from NASA to develop a quieter supersonic aircraft. Aerion Corp., a business jet startup backed by Texas billionaire Robert Bass, and Boom Technology Inc., a Colorado startup, are among companies developing planes capable of flying above the speed of sound.
Boom’s play is expected to fly Mach 2.2 or 10% faster than Concorde. It’s striking that after 50 years they’re only looking at 10% more speed and a ‘30% gain in efficiency’. That’s a real testament to what was created, economic efficiencies aside, in the 1960s.
With advances in jet engines, and new composite materials, it may be possible to generate the efficiencies needed to make supersonic commercial travel viable with planes in flight by the mid-2020s. Expect range just over 5000 miles and seating for 45 – 55 business class seats. But there are still big technological hurdles..
As long as supersonic travel is more expensive than subsonic, the market will be limited. And limited markets make it tough to recoup development and acquisition costs. Airlines have a hard time making money operating only a couple of planes of a type. The plane needs to be capable of flying long distances, fuel efficiently, and large numbers of passengers in order to be economical on a large scale.
Otherwise the market has to be able to support fares significantly higher than for subsonic transport. The ultimate question is: how much is shaving 3.5 hours off of a transatlantic flight worth, and to how many people?
In 10 years cars will drive themselves, and our kids will ask vexingly did people really used to drive themselves, and how was that possible without having accidents all the time? And in 10 years we may be flying across the Atlantic in 3 hours and across the Pacific in 5 hours.
One barrier to all of this has been the US federal government, and NIMBY-like concerns about noise (and sometimes astroturf lobbying that looks like noise concern funded by incumbent airlines). If the US didn’t change its rules it could just be left behind. Japan Airlines invested in Boom, and you could imagine Tokyo – Sydney, Tokyo – Singapore, and Tokyo – Vancouver flights without crossing land until arrival.