NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
The Concorde will make its last commercial flight Oct. 24, British Airways said Tuesday, likely bringing an end to the era of supersonic travel by the general public.
The plane, with its distinctive tilt nose and broad wingspan, first debuted in 1969. But it has been losing money for years, and the fleet was grounded for more than year after an August 2000 crash outside Paris revealed design problems that required an expensive upgrades.
|The British Airways Concorde, shown in a 2001 photo, will make its last commercial flight Oct. 24.
The planes returned to service in November 2001, just after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks brought a sharp downturn in demand for air travel and air fares.
The Concorde travels at 1,350 miles per hour, or twice the speed of sound, and at 60,000 feet, almost twice as high as other commercial jets.
No other supersonic commercial jet is now in production or even on the drawing board. U.S. aircraft maker Boeing (BA: Research, Estimates) dropped plans following the Sept. 11 attack for a new jet that would have traveled near the speed of sound. Instead, it now is looking at building a jet that is far more fuel efficient.
Air France, the only other carrier to operate the planes, discontinued flights May 31. Richard Branson, owner of upstart Virgin Atlantic Airways, is making a push to buy at least some of British Airways' fleet of seven Concordes, but British Airways spokesman Richard Goodfellow said that the planes are not for sale.
"Concorde is our flagship. We wish to recognize Concorde's great contribution to world aviation by retiring it gracefully," said Goodfellow.
BA used to operate two Concorde round-trips daily between London and New York before the 2000 crash. It has had only one round-trip flight a day since resuming service. The last flight is to leave New York about 7 a.m. E.T. and arrive mid-afternoon London time.
The plane takes about three and a half hours between New York's John F. Kennedy Airport and London Heathrow, about half the time of a more typical jet. It consumes 5,638 gallons of fuel an hour, about twice the fuel consumption of a Boeing 747, which holds far more passengers than the 100 first class seats on the Concorde.
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"The Concorde was designed when there was cheap fuel, 11 or 12 cents a gallon. Just after it started flying the early-70's OPEC crisis hit, and the economics never really worked after that," airline economics analyst Jim Craun of Eclat Consulting said. "It might have been profitable for a period, but it was only in the late 90s when everything was booming. And it helps marketing the rest of the route system with the big spenders. Those are the ones who really want to it keep on the airline. But I think that it never made economic sense after fuel went up 30 years ago."
Prices for a ticket between London and New York are about ｣7,000 to ｣8,000, or about $11,620 to $13,280, a substantial premium over a first-class seat on a standard British Airways flight. The BA Web site quotes a price of $5,851.40 for a first-class one way flight between New York and London on Oct. 24 on a plane other than the Concorde.
BA is offering a fare sale this summer for the Concorde with some flights as low as ｣3,499. Even the discounted fares will rise to ｣6,499 in September as the number of remaining flights dwindles.
BA's statement said it is looking into whether it can keep one of the seven Concordes in flying condition for air shows and other special events, and that it is taking bids from various aviation museums around the world for a final location for the other planes.
Branson has made the proposal that a charitable trust be set up to operate at least one or two of the Concordes if BA will not sell the planes to Virgin Atlantic as he proposed. He's offered to donate ｣1 million to such a trust.
Branson originally had proposed buying the jets from BA for ｣1 each, the same price BA paid the British government for the jets originally. But he now has raised his offer to ｣5 million for the seven planes, or ｣1 million for each of the five that have had the upgrade necessary to make them airworthy. He is proposing to operate them between London and New York, Barbados and Dubai.
Virgin Atlantic spokeswoman Wendy Blake said Branson believes he can operate them profitably, but he wishes to buy them no matter the economics.
"The whole cause is he doesn't want to see the Concorde go away," Blake said.
Virgin Atlantic is a privately held airline, although it is 49 percent owned by Singapore Airlines.