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Concorde heads for permanent landing

By Marilyn Adams, Byron Acohido, Chris Woodyard and Ellen Hale, USA TODAY

For 27 years, the Concorde represented all that the Jet Age seemed to offer.

Looking more like a space shuttle than a jetliner, it rocketed celebrities and tycoons across the Atlantic with supersonic speed and style. It lifted air travel to high art, made New York and Paris almost neighbors, and compressed time and space in a way that suggested anything was possible. Concorde prototypes flew the same year the United States reached the moon.

This year, a century after the Wright Brothers' first flight, British Airways and Air France will retire their Concordes because of falling demand and rising costs. The jets will be turned over to museums.

Thursday's announcement comes three years after a catastrophic Concorde crash in Paris killed all aboard. The decision to park the planes seems tied to today's painful business realities: Trans-Atlantic travel is off 25% from a year ago. The Iraq war has ratcheted up fuel prices. The 100-seat Concorde uses as much fuel as a Boeing 747 jumbo jet that has four times the passenger capacity. The Concorde requires three specially trained pilots; most modern wide-body jets, two.

Meanwhile, advances in other technologies have outdistanced aerospace innovation. The seemingly endless abilities of the Internet have made doing trans-Atlantic business in person less critical. Companies, even the rich, find it hard to justify spending more than $6,000 for a 3 1/2-hour Concorde flight when a 6- or 7-hour flight can be bought for as little as $200 round trip in coach, and even business class from New York to London is $3,800.

Economically, airlines can't justify the Concorde anymore. This sleek symbol of the future has become an anachronism in an era when saving money seems more important than saving time.

"It's a sad day in many ways," British Airways CEO Rod Eddington told the BBC. "Concorde changed the nature of commercial aviation."

However, "if you're laying people off and telling people in your business to tighten your belt, senior executives find it inconsistent to go to the airport and get on a Concorde rather than subsonic aircraft."

British Airways is offering a sale to try to fill the plane's remaining flights. Round-tripfares range from $2,999 to $5,499, which includes one way on the Concorde and one way on a conventional jet.

The Concorde also appeared in many movies.

"I think it's rather sad" that the Concorde's days are near an end, said actor Roger Moore. As James Bond, Moore flies from Paris to Rio de Janeiro on a Concorde in the 1979 film Moonraker. Moore says he flew the Concorde 20 or 30 times, and what he'll miss most is the speed, but adds, "The caviar was always a little bit better."

(USA Today 10/04/2003)
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