- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 14, 2003

The British Airways Concorde landed at Washington Dulles International Airport with mist spraying from its wings yesterday afternoon on its last flight from Europe to the Washington area.

After 33 years, the world’s fastest commercial jet fell victim to a weak economy and the high costs of maintaining the Mach 2 airplanes.

“It just became something that was not sustainable,” said David Noyes, executive vice president of British Airways, which flies seven of the 12 Concorde planes.

“The economy has been down and corporate customers have told us they can’t use the aircraft the way they had,” Mr. Noyes said.

The delta-wing airplanes now will become museum pieces.

The airlines’ disappointment was shared by some of its passengers yesterday, including Gregory Barnhill, a Baltimore securities adviser who has flown the Concorde six times on business trips.

The last flight made him feel “nostalgic,” he said. “It’s like a thoroughbred. It likes to go fast.”

But the disappointment was not apparent during celebrations that started at Heathrow Airport in London and continued along the supersonic flight path through the arrival at Dulles Airport.

The Concorde lounge at Heathrow, which normally is filled by only a few businessmen speaking on cell phones and reading newspapers, was filled with passengers and well-wishers celebrating with champagne and hors d’oeuvres.

Shortly after the airplane took off, a digital display in the cabin showed it had reached Mach 2. Many of the passengers on the packed airplane pulled out cameras to take pictures of themselves next to the digital display showing that the airplane was traveling at twice the speed of sound.

“On this flight, all the rules are out the window,” said Craig McCloud, a commercial pilot from Fremont, Calif.

Atlanta couple Douglas Mitchell, 39, and Tinosh Davarinia, 33, got engaged after dessert.

The trip was a surprise for Miss Davarinia. Mr. Mitchell asked her, while fliers sipped cognac, “Could we have done anything better than this?” Then he proposed, presenting her with an engagement ring.

As the airplane taxied to a reception area near the cargo runway at Dulles, a British Airways purser lamented the change in career the end of the flights will mean for him.

“It’s sad, but like all great things, they come to an end,” said Alan Lowe, a 16-year British Airways employee. He will become a crew member on British Airways Boeing 747s for intercontinental flights.

“Today, you can fly in 3 hours,” he said as the Concorde engines whined to a stop. “Tomorrow, it will take 8 hours.”

The first commercial flight of Concorde to the United States took off May 24, 1976, to Dulles Airport.

Daily flights between New York and London started the next year. Since then, more than 2.5 million passengers have flown the British Airways Concorde, many of them corporate executives, movie stars, rock singers and political leaders.

The airline industry downturn after the September 11 attacks cut into the Concordes’ weak finances.

The plane already had suffered a blow in 2000, when an Air France Concorde crashed outside Paris, killing all 113 persons aboard.

In addition, flights were allowed only over oceans because sonic booms from the airplanes shattered glass and damaged equipment.

The Concordes flew in the upper atmosphere, where they disturbed the ozone layer and used huge amounts of fuel.

The end of the flights are expected to make little difference in business at Dulles or any of its other North American destinations. The biggest loss will be for the airplane’s admirers.

“It does mean something for the aviation community not to see this airplane flying anymore,” said Tom Sullivan, spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which manages Dulles and Ronald Reagan Washington National airports.

Kevin Chaffee contributed to this report.

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