IF all goes according to schedule, Concorde will make its final flight today, from New York to London. Champagne will be drunk, memories will be shared, tears will be shed. This exquisite plane, this outstanding example of pioneering British aviation technology (I quote from lachrymose letters to the editor of The Times/ is about to be mothballed.
Let's be clear about Concorde. It has been an appallingly expensive failure. It's greatest achievement has been to enable well-heeled passengers to have lunch in London and dinner in New York by doing the trip in half the time taken by subsonic aircraft - hardly an outcome worth the eleven billion pounds (at today's prices) the aircraft cost the public purse to develop and build before it was handed over to Air France and British Airways for nominal sums. Even if Concorde's supersonic speed is something to be admired as an end in itself we are still left with an environmentally offensive, gas-guzzling monster which actually uses four times as much fuel per passenger as a Boeing 747 to cross the Atlantic.
Its admirers see Concorde as a symbol of British technological excellence whose potential was destroyed by opposition to over-flying from the United States and other countries. That is nonsense. Concorde is an example, among dozens of others, of British (and French) innovative skill and marketing incompetence. The aircraft was built without knowing whether there was a market for it or, indeed, whether it could deliver what was promised in terms of longhaul flights. The wrong engine was used as an economy measure and proved to be the major source of the aircraft's shortcomings.
As Concorde quits our skies it should be remembered as an aeronautical failure, not as some kind of triumph.