The curvature of the earth could be seen on the horizon and the sun seemed to move backwards: the experience of flying on the Concorde was a unique experience. 20 years ago, on October 24, 2003, the legendary passenger plane took off for the last time on a commercial flight – from New York to London. Since then, civilian supersonic flight, which Great Britain and France agreed to develop in 1962, has been history.

Mike Bannister was sitting in the cockpit at the time. From a pilot’s perspective, flying a Concorde was “wonderful,” recalls the former chief pilot of British Airways’ Concorde fleet. “You can cross the Atlantic in three hours and twenty minutes, you’re flying faster than the earth rotates, (…) you’re at the edge of space, where the sky gets darker and the curvature of the earth is visible,” enthuses Bannister in an interview with the German Press Agency. The Concorde, which had been in regular service since 1976, he summed up, was a “spectacular technological success.” The legacy lives on in many of today’s aircraft, especially those from the Airbus Group.

Tragic crash

However, he remembers the very last flight as a balancing act. “I wanted to make sure we had a balance and celebrated the 27 years while also commemorating what had happened in Paris,” says Bannister.

The tragic crash of a Concorde near Paris in July 2000 with 113 deaths, 97 of them Germans, cast a shadow over the once prestigious aviators. The cause was not the Concorde itself, but a piece of metal on the runway that had fallen off another aircraft. The end of British Airways, Bannister emphasizes, had nothing to do with the tragic accident. “Costs had skyrocketed and revenues had fallen,” he said. It was a purely commercial decision.

“The flying ballpoint pen,” as the slim Concorde was also called, was getting old, which increased maintenance costs. With its significantly higher kerosene consumption compared to a conventional aircraft, the extremely loud Concorde was already expensive to use.

Characteristically pointed nose

On the French side, the end of supersonic aircraft came a few months before the very last flight to London. Initially it was said in Paris at the beginning of April that Air France would probably no longer fly the Concorde from 2007 – but then on April 10, 2003, British Airways and Air France simultaneously announced the end of scheduled flights with the Concorde, in France at the end of May and in Great Britain End of October. In 2003, Air France still had five Concorde jets and British Airways had seven aircraft. The flight license ran until 2009.

The last jet with the characteristically pointed nose and elegantly fanning wings touched down from New York on May 31st at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. Hundreds of onlookers awaited the last Concorde. The menu for the last flight, created by star chef Alain Ducasse, consisted of caviar, goose liver and champagne, beef, fine wines and small tarts. They were served by the senior stewardess, Pierrette Cathala. “I will never again serve actors, celebrities, the rich and famous in this beautiful white bird high above the Atlantic,” she said calmly at the time.

For Mike Bannister, it is not yet clear that the era of civilian supersonic flight is over once and for all. He is relying on the US Boom project, which is working on a modern supersonic aircraft that will comply with climate protection requirements while also keeping an eye on economic efficiency. By the end of the decade, he believes, passengers could once again be racing across the sky at several times the speed of sound. The dream is not yet over.