21 January 1976: Concorde’s first commercial flight

Almost seven years after its maiden flight, and at a total cost of £1.3bn, Concorde finally entered commercial service on this day in 1976.

The post-war period was an exciting time in the aerospace industry. The industry and the machines that served it were developing at an extremely rapid pace.

It was also a time of post-imperial jostling. The European empires were in decline, while America was forging ahead. By the end of the 1960s, the market for airliners was dominated by American companies Boeing, Lockheed, and McDonnell Douglas.

Europe wanted a piece of the action. They wanted prestige, and to let the world know they were still major players.

And so the governments of Britain and France agreed to jointly develop what they hoped would be the future of air travel the world's first supersonic passenger aircraft. A treaty was signed in 1962, and development started.

The plane first flew on 2 March 1969, and initially, there was a lot of interest from the world's airlines. But it soon ran into problems. Governments weren't keen on sonic booms scaring their populations, and many (including the US, which had a very large subsonic airliner manufacturing base to protect) banned it from flying at supersonic speeds over their territories.

There was also the question of costs. The project, being underwritten by the British and French governments, racked up six times the original estimate. The price of oil went through the roof and Concorde was unable to compete with the new generation of wide-bodied aircraft, led by the Boeing 747, which had its first flight just weeks before Concorde's.

Faced with these problems, its customers evaporated. The only two left were the state airlines of Britain and France. But development continued, and 20 aircraft were built, at a total cost of some £1.3bn.

Finally, at 11:40am 21 January 1976 seven years after the prototype first flew, and five years after the 747 entered service two Concordes took off simultaneously from London and Paris, carrying the first commercial passengers. The British Airways flight set off for Bahrain, while the Air France flight headed for Rio de Janeiro, via Dakar.

Recommended

1 April 1999: The minimum wage is introduced in Britain
This day in history

1 April 1999: The minimum wage is introduced in Britain

On this day in 1999, the national minimum wage was introduced in Britain, bringing an instant pay rise to 1.9 million low-paid workers.
1 Apr 2021
27 February 1900: The launch of the Labour Party
This day in history

27 February 1900: The launch of the Labour Party

Responding to the need for a single political party to represent the trade unions, the Labour Party was formed on this day in 1900.
27 Feb 2021
24 February 1981: Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer announce their engagement
This day in history

24 February 1981: Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer announce their engagement

On this day in 1981, Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer made their engagement official in front of the world's press at Buckingham Palace.
24 Feb 2021
24 February 1809: Drury Lane theatre burns down
This day in history

24 February 1809: Drury Lane theatre burns down

On this day in 1809, celebrated playwright Richard Sheridan was effectively ruined when the Drury Lane theatre went up in smoke.
24 Feb 2021

Most Popular

How will Joe Biden’s capital gains tax rise affect crypto prices?
Bitcoin & crypto

How will Joe Biden’s capital gains tax rise affect crypto prices?

The US president wants to increase capital gains tax – and that’s going to hit a lot of American cryptocurrency speculators. Saloni Sardana looks at h…
14 May 2021
US stocks look expensive – here’s what to own instead
Investment strategy

US stocks look expensive – here’s what to own instead

Right now, US stocks are among the most expensive in the world. So if you want a decent return on your investments, you should look into diversifying …
17 May 2021
Inheritance tax planning: the rules around gifting
Inheritance tax

Inheritance tax planning: the rules around gifting

There are plenty of legal ways to minimise an inheritance tax bill. Perhaps the simplest is to give away assets to reduce the size of your estate. Dav…
11 May 2021