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Flight 4590 Didn't Kill the Concorde; Costs Did 403

Posted by timothy
from the one-day-again-fast-transport dept.
pigrabbitbear writes "If the plane were around today — which some still fantasize about — it'd be like powering a stretch Hummer with dolphin blood. The airlines couldn't sell enough tickets on the small plane to even make up for the amount of fuel it needed to guzzle on its journeys, let alone cover maintenance for the technological marvel. (A Concorde's taxi to the end of a runway used as much fuel as a 737's flight from London to Amsterdam.) Customers were fine with ordinary travel times for a fraction of the airfare and the plane only took transatlantic journeys, because going over land was too disturbing. Too much noise."
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Flight 4590 Didn't Kill the Concorde; Costs Did

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  • Old news day? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Antony T Curtis (89990) on Thursday July 26, 2012 @05:39PM (#40783989) Homepage Journal

    Really? How is this news?

  • Wow. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 26, 2012 @05:39PM (#40783991)

    Total waste of dolphin's blood.

  • You get first post!
  • by evafan76 (2527608) on Thursday July 26, 2012 @05:41PM (#40784017)
    ...sounds like something a B-movie villain would have. With seats covered in Baby Seal Leather.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      not gonna lie, id ride in it.

  • by Guspaz (556486) on Thursday July 26, 2012 @05:43PM (#40784041)

    The Concorde was designed in the late 1950s. We have made rather substantial improvements in technology in the past half century that would allow an aircraft designed today to achieve substantially better fuel efficiency, not to mention the additional efficiencies we can gain via higher altitudes. The stigma of its failure will probably prevent anybody from trying again any time soon, but just because an aircraft designed in the 1950s wasn't cost effective doesn't mean an aircraft designed in the 2010s couldn't be.

    • by Tough Love (215404) on Thursday July 26, 2012 @06:00PM (#40784217)

      Thanks, but no thanks. I'm holding out for my suborbital scramjet.

    • by Koreantoast (527520) on Thursday July 26, 2012 @06:28PM (#40784581)
      It's been tried but no one is interested. In 2001, Boeing pitched the idea of a near-supersonic aircraft that would travel Mach 0.98 with the fuel efficiency similar to existing aircraft at the time. However, airlines balked at it, saying that they were more interested increased fuel efficiency and lower operating costs instead. Therefore, Boeing scrapped the development for their Sonic Cruiser and used the technology to design the B787 Dreamliner instead.
      • by Guspaz (556486) on Thursday July 26, 2012 @06:37PM (#40784673)

        Of course it was rejected. Their proposal travels at Mach 0.98. A regular aircraft (using the 787 as an example) travels at Mach 0.85. That's a really tiny difference; a flight that would have taken 6 hours would instead take 5 hours and 12 minutes. Yeah, it's an improvement, but not enough to justify the extra expense as compared to more efficient aircraft.

        On the other hand, if you created an aircraft that travelled at the same speed as a Concorde but with much greater efficiency, you could do your 6 hour flight in 2 hours and 30 minutes. That's some substantial savings.

    • by Grayhand (2610049) on Thursday July 26, 2012 @06:38PM (#40784693)

      The Concorde was designed in the late 1950s. We have made rather substantial improvements in technology in the past half century that would allow an aircraft designed today to achieve substantially better fuel efficiency, not to mention the additional efficiencies we can gain via higher altitudes. The stigma of its failure will probably prevent anybody from trying again any time soon, but just because an aircraft designed in the 1950s wasn't cost effective doesn't mean an aircraft designed in the 2010s couldn't be.

      Besides the cost of the dolphin blood fuel has come way down.

    • by DesScorp (410532) <DesScorp.Gmail@com> on Thursday July 26, 2012 @06:42PM (#40784719) Homepage Journal

      The Concorde was designed in the late 1950s. We have made rather substantial improvements in technology in the past half century that would allow an aircraft designed today to achieve substantially better fuel efficiency, not to mention the additional efficiencies we can gain via higher altitudes. The stigma of its failure will probably prevent anybody from trying again any time soon, but just because an aircraft designed in the 1950s wasn't cost effective doesn't mean an aircraft designed in the 2010s couldn't be.

      Virtually all of those technological improvements concern lowering costs. None of them increased performance, which is what the Concorde and the proposed American SST projects were all about... zooming civilian passengers around at military speeds. The Concorde was all about speed. We've actually slowed down since then, with the modern high-bypass turbofan airliners... especially the two-engined craft... gaining fuel efficiency but losing speed compared to the first generation of jet airliners with their thirsty-but-fast turbojets.

      Here are some cruise speeds of jetliners vs. the later crop of comparable turbofan liners:

      Boeing 707: 604 MPH
      Douglas DC-8: 596 MPH

      vs.

      Boeing 767: 567 MPH
      Airbus A330: 567 MPH

      It's great that our jets are more efficient, but there's zero allure about that when it comes to the passenger. Nobody brags about the efficient fuel usage on their flight. Concorde passengers got to lord it over their friends that they went Mach 2.

  • I wasn't aware this was news. The same concerns killed Boeing's plans for a supersonic jet (but not before the basketball team was named after the doomed project.) I thought it was a well known case of the "good enough" being the enemy of the perfect. It's also why there's not a lot of research into hypersonic or suborbital flights except for military purposes. The increase in cost is, er, astronomical, while the reduction in time is comparatively insignificant. The number of people who are willing to pay a
    • Of course it was economic. The only thing that kept it running as long as it did was national pride.

      Creating a sonic boom over populated areas didn't help but the basic problem is the fact that it's so damned expensive to operate.

      • by Meeni (1815694)

        I lived in Paris near CDG airport and never ever heard a sonic boom. They had Concorde taking off and landing everyday there, and its pretty much inland (closest sea is about 200 miles away). Fuel guzzling, sure, noise seems to be BS stirred by Boeing, from first person witnessing.
         

    • Re:Seriously? (Score:4, Informative)

      by El_Oscuro (1022477) on Thursday July 26, 2012 @07:22PM (#40785135) Homepage
      If you can make it reasonably pratical, suborbital makes sense for very long range routes (i.e New York to Tokyo). Not only is it much faster, but can potentially use less fuel. Instead of punching a hole in the atmosphere for 20 hours, you need enough fuel for the launch (which would still be a lot) plus a little more for landing. Most of the trip at the edge of space is free.
  • Laptops (Score:5, Insightful)

    by antifoidulus (807088) on Thursday July 26, 2012 @05:47PM (#40784063) Homepage Journal
    You cannot help but wonder if the advent of the powerful laptop also helped to expedite the end if the Concorde, starting in the late 90s laptops were powerful enough that you could actually do some serious work(and/or play) on a plane, especially in business class where you had room and an outlet. All of a sudden the few hours you saved by taking the Concorde became comparatively less valuable.
    • Re:Laptops (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sir_Sri (199544) on Thursday July 26, 2012 @06:04PM (#40784269)

      As did the added layers of security. I've always lived about 2 hours from a major airport (Toronto). To spend at least 3 -5 hours before I even get on on the aircraft, to spend another 3-8 hours in the air, means I'm looking at at least 6 hours, and more like 8 or 9 hours minimum to get somewhere, versus 12 or 13. At that point the whole next day is a write off anyway.

      Being able to do real work means you get a lot less from saving a couple of hours travel time,and having to waste hours before you can even board a plane to get through security means the time you save by a shortened flight is proportionally less. Between fax machines and the internet there's much less demand for moving documents back and forth, so ya, I think other less aircraft driven technologies also pushed concorde out of business.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 26, 2012 @05:47PM (#40784065)

    Tyre explosions and damage were quite common, due to the high takeoff and landing speed of the plane, and the unfortunately placed landing gear location in the wing. Pieces of tyre would damage the wing.

    The Russians noticed this was a serious problem so they completely redesigned their Tu-144 and relocated the wheel wells in the engine nacelles. The engines were much harder to damage because of all the titanium, so a tire explosion wouldn't cause a disastrous failure.

  • 4 hours via concorde or 6 via normal plane is not a huge difference, so people choose the cheaper route.

    Same on the ground. I compared the "speedy" Amtrak Acela versus the normal train, and from Philly to Boston it only saves 15-20 minutes..... but costs $250! (For that cost you could take a train across the whole country.)

    • by Sir_Sri (199544)

      Ya, if you could take a flight from New York to Beijing or Tokyo in 5 or 6 hours versus 12-20 you might be making a compelling sale. But transatlantic routes just aren't that big of a deal.

    • Acela faces the same problem most of Amtrak does: it travels far under rated speed for most of the route because it's on freight rail. The only time it's travelling faster than the regular Northeast Regional is certain areas before it enters CT (though both trains outpace free-flowing highway traffic in NJ). The principal improvement in travel time is that it stops only once per state, and I believe has a shorter-than-normal layover in NYC (Northeast Regional stops for a good 45min at NY Penn).

    • by GrahamCox (741991)
      ...costs $250! (For that cost you could take a train across the whole country.)

      Same in the UK!
  • by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Thursday July 26, 2012 @05:50PM (#40784097) Journal

    Let's get one thing straight. It's customary to refer to Concorde as "Concorde." Not "the Concorde", just "Concorde."

    Carry on.

  • *it'd be like powering a stretch Hummer with dolphin blood*

    Kinda sounds like The Oatmeal...

  • Magical Summary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sponge Bath (413667) on Thursday July 26, 2012 @05:54PM (#40784139)

    ...powering a stretch Hummer with dolphin blood

    Your ideas are intriguing to me, and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

  • still don't care, but i learned something.
  • by tekrat (242117) on Thursday July 26, 2012 @05:55PM (#40784157) Homepage Journal

    The vast majority of business meetings are now held virtually anyhow -- networked computers, adobe connect, PCanywhere, yadda yadda, a zillion software solutions now exist so that people with laptops just activate the built-in webcam and boom, they are part of a meeting taking place in no particular location.

    Less people need to fly overnight now to shake hands and sign documents. FEDEX and the internet have changed the way we do business.

    That said, I used to live a few miles from JFK airport in Queens, and loved to watch it fly in. It came in VERY regular times, it could never be in a holding pattern, so, at 8:15 exactly it would be flying over your head.

    Standing on Hook Creek blvd in Rosedale, you'd see it come in at a high angle of attack, with the nose pointed down and the landing gear extended, it looked like some kind of bird of prey about to swoop down and grab a rodent off the ground.

  • by MobyDobie (2426436) on Thursday July 26, 2012 @06:00PM (#40784211)
    The article has all sorts of inaccuracies and key omissions. Concorde was always fuel inefficient and it was recognized as such in the 70s. It was thought it could still be successful despite this, until wide body jets took away much of its market. Because of its limited success, and limited money at the time, a slightly improved concorde (with greater range making a lot more transoceanic routes viable and about another 30 seats), or a vastly improved concorde (with about 250 seats), were never built. These might have been more commercially successful than the concorde that was built. Even so, Concorde was profitable as a niche market for British Airways. It was until it was grounded following the Air France crash. You may recall that BA spent a lot of money improving concorde and getting it back into the air (e.g. kevlar lining in the tanks), but then quickly wound the program down. They expected it to be profitable again, and fly for another 20 or 30 years. The problem was 9/11 killed concorde. The reason was it was such a niche that BA's concorde profits depending on a lot of regular fliers who repeatedly flew on it between London & New York - and many of these frequent Concorde fliers worked in the WTC. The treaty between the UK & France meant that unless both agreed Concorde had to be kept flying, so when BA lost interest the French neither had the prestige reasons or the monetary reasons (I don't know if their Concorde operations were profitable) to continue either, and it was mutually agreed to shutdown. Also omitted are some additional locations where Concorde can be visited. There is a Concorde (one of the two British test aircraft) that you can go aboard at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford near Cambridge. By coincidence I was there today, and yes I went aboard this Concorde.
  • by TheGavster (774657) on Thursday July 26, 2012 @06:02PM (#40784237) Homepage

    We live in an era where we shy back from the edge achieved in the past. Air transport speeds have stagnated around mach 0.9, the top speed at Indianapolis was recorded more than a decade ago, and the optimistic plan for a return to the moon has three times the development time of the original flight. Between tendencies to ensure that we don't do anything that could fail and to form a bureaucracy to hide behind if it does, this century's progress in the peak of human achievement will far lag that of the last.

    • by sco08y (615665) on Thursday July 26, 2012 @06:22PM (#40784497)

      ...this century's progress in the peak of human achievement will far lag that of the last.

      If you want to measure progress in "how fast a handful of executives fly around," sure.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DerekLyons (302214)

      Air transport speeds have stagnated around mach 0.9

      Because it simply costs too much to fly faster than that.

      the top speed at Indianapolis was recorded more than a decade ago

      Because top speeds are now increasing regulated both for safety reasons, and to keep it a competition between drivers rather than checkbooks.

      and the optimistic plan for a return to the moon has three times the development time of the original flight.

      Actually about one and a half times once you understand that Apollo devel

  • I always wondered why the wheels of large airplanes are unpowered. In the air, you need to push air to go, but surely on the ground it ought to be more efficient to use an electric engine from a Prius or something to taxi around. Anybody know why this is not done?

  • Ridiculous (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Man On Pink Corner (1089867) on Thursday July 26, 2012 @06:09PM (#40784325)

    A Concorde's taxi to the end of a runway used as much fuel as a 737's flight from London to Amsterdam.

    If that much energy were released over that short a timespan, the airplane wouldn't be there anymore, and neither would the runway.

    This must be that "Journalist physics" I keep hearing about, similar in methodology to "Cop math."

    • Re:Ridiculous (Score:5, Informative)

      by dhanson865 (1134161) on Thursday July 26, 2012 @08:54PM (#40785921)

      Keep in mind the concorde needs a very long runway and operated at only the largest airports were it would have to wait in line and/or travel a long way from loading to takeoff at low speeds which is very inneficient for a jet engine.

      Acording to Wikipedia due to jet engines being highly inefficient at low speeds, Concorde burned two tonnes of fuel (almost 2% of the maximum fuel load) taxiing to the runway.

      According to http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/5195964.stm [bbc.co.uk] the Concorde burned up 94 tonnes of fuel getting from London to New York and a whopping two tonnes simply taxiing onto the runway.

      A random google result says a 737 uses 2400 kg/hour in fuel and 1 hour at 485 mph, 780 km/h should get you about 485 miles / 780 km :)

      London to Amsterdam is only 221 miles (356 km) so it looks like Concorde as designed in the 50s used more fuel taxiing around as a common jet does in an hour flight

      • wait a second. How much fuel does the 747 use in taxiing? How come the comparison is made between Concorde on the GROUND (where ANY aircraft is horribly inefficient!) and a BEHEMOTH IN THE AIR!?

        THIS DOES NOT MAKE A LICK OF SENSE!

      • A random Google result for Concorde has the following:
        Fuel Consumption (at Idle Power) 1100 kgs/hr (302 Gallons/hr)
        Fuel Consumption (at Full Power) 10500 kgs/hr (2885 Gallons/hr)
        Fuel Consumption (at Full Re-heated power) 22500 kgs/hr (6180 Gallons/hr)

        I can buy the '2 tons' figure if it includes takeoff (which is done with reheat). Otherwise, you'd have to taxi around for at least an hour to burn 2 tons of fuel.

  • by queazocotal (915608) on Thursday July 26, 2012 @06:11PM (#40784355)

    The article on which the submission was based simply stated it used too much fuel.
    This was a quote from another article.
    Yes, it used a lot of fuel, however at the time of the accident, the fuel and other costs were handily made up by the ticket prices. Every flight was full as I understand it.
    Could concorde substitute in the low-cost carrier role - of course not.
    Did it have a profitable (after writing off development costs) buisness going forward - yes, as long as the planes remained in good order.
    Was it possible that at some point in the future that they would no longer be able to fill the seats - sure.

    For a truly niche service, for the very rich, I question that they wouldn't be able to fill the seats at prices enough to pay all the costs now.

  • Concorde at Filton isn't even open to the public - it closed in 2010 for inspection by engineers (really? What engineering work had they in mind on a permanently grounded plane? Mind you, British weather had probably taken its toll on the frame...) and there's no scheduled reopening. I imagine there isn't the money to do any work - it was pretty much entirely staffed by volunteers - mostly older people who'd worked on it in the past and had since retired.

  • by dirtyhippie (259852) on Thursday July 26, 2012 @06:22PM (#40784481) Homepage

    Commercial airplanes use tons (literally) of fuel while taxiing. Idling a jet engine is expensive. And london-amsterdam is about the shortest commercially viable flight possible - only about 200 miles - or to put it in US terms, DC-NYC. So, yes, the concorde guzzled fuel - maybe 5 times what a 737 uses - but its fuel usage was not completely irresponsible - after all, you have to carry most of that fuel at mach 2.2...

  • by ridgecritter (934252) on Thursday July 26, 2012 @10:20PM (#40786463)

    From the summary: "The airlines couldn't sell enough tickets on the small plane to even make up for the amount of fuel it needed to guzzle on its journeys, let alone cover maintenance for the technological marvel."

    With the increasing concentration of wealth, the number of people who could and would pay >5x the former Concorde ticket price (adjusted for inflation) is probably large enough to carry the aircraft operations and maintenance and then some. To such a target market, a small number of passengers per flight is not a negative at all - it's exclusivity writ large. I think that if the Concorde were flying today, its operators could charge $75K/passenger and fill the aircraft. There isn't any transportation system at present that provides its passengers what the Concorde did: an irresistable combination of speed, luxury, and a conspicuous imprimatur of being the richest of the rich. The market for extreme luxury goods is growing very rapidly, and the Concorde would have fit in perfectly today.

    • by cardpuncher (713057) on Friday July 27, 2012 @04:59AM (#40788243)

      Well, on the one occasion I flew Concorde JFK-LHR, luxury was not really at the top of the agenda. The *service* was good, but it was also necessary - taking coats from passengers in the private lounge to stow on board gave the impression of service, but was necessary because the aircraft was so small there was nowhere in the passenger cabin where people could have stowed them themselves. The seats were small. The aisle was small. The food selection was small (compared with First Class) because the galleys were small and the food storage areas were small.

      There was almost a pioneering air about it - as we climbed out of JFK the captain announced "please don't be alarmed: we're shortly about to turn off the engines [I suspect he meant the afterburners] as part of noise control procedures, but don't worry, they've never failed to reignite yet". The interior walls became noticeably warm as the mach indicator ticked up.

      But the big attraction was that Concorde flew during the day (unlike all but a couple of other US/UK flights) and you arrived without the fatigue of 7 hours of confinement in bad air.

      And even 35 years back, I got to fly because a conventional aircraft had gone out of service and there was room on Concorde at the last moment to accommodate all the bumped First Class passengers and a good chunk of Business Class - so even then there weren't that many people (the aircraft only had 100 seats) for whom that attraction was worth the price.

  • by Tastecicles (1153671) on Friday July 27, 2012 @01:22AM (#40787399)

    Pre-September 11 2001, Concorde almost consistently made operating profit on every flight. The aircraft only had to be half full to break even on all costs, INCLUDING FUEL.

    (Source [concordesst.com])

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