15 years ago today, the world’s fastest passenger jet, Concorde, caught fire shortly before takeoff and crashed into a hotel in Gonesse, France. 113 people, including four on the ground, were killed less than two minutes after the wounded jet took to the skies.
The investigation that followed found that a metal strip on the runway from the engine of a DC-10 caused a chain reaction that sealed the fate of the jet, her passengers and her crew.
However, despite the crash not being the result of a fault with the jet itself, the crash would mark the beginning of the end for Concorde and commercial supersonic flight as a whole.
In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, all Concordes on both sides of the Atlantic were grounded, resulting in a large amount of lost revenue for its operators.
The supersonic jet made its first flight since the crash in September 2001. However, its arrival in New York would be overshadowed by another disaster just several hours later. Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center, with a third striking the Pentagon in Washington. The terrorist attacks on 9/11 resulted in the cancellation of thousands of flights and a 30 percent reduction in demand for air travel. Despite resuming normal operations in November, a wary travelling public were less than eager to fly on Concorde.
Arguably most importantly though, both Air France and British Airways (the other operator of Concorde) came to the conclusion that more profit could be made if the jet did flew at a subsonic speed. Unable to compete with subsonic competitors from Boeing and Airbus, this marked the final nail in the coffin for Concorde. The jet took to the skies for the last time in 2003 before being retired.
Concorde’s final curtain call marked an end of an era, and was the first step back in commercial aviation. With increasing oil prices and pressure for new passenger planes to be more eco-friendly, it may be sometime before we see anything comparable to it again.