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The Concorde, R.I.P.

No, apparently. Now that Airbus is withdrawing its technical support—trashing all the molds it uses to make spare parts, et cetera—Concorde could never get "recertified."

Well...but eventually there'd be another supersonic airliner, would there not?Some cash-rich government somewhere looking to put itself on the map?

Extremely doubtful. The Concorde was flying before every hundred-millionaire had his own private jet, and even then it found barely enough market share to scrape by. Anyone who tried to start the whole program again from scratch would need his head examined.

But surely, one can never say never. One can famously never say never.

One can never say never, Claud concedes, but in a way that, coming from a man who has given so much of his life to the Concorde and would presumably like nothing more than a shred of hope to cling to, sounds an awful lot like "never."

But you know what?I'm okay now. It was many moons ago—or at least many suns—that emotional day in the hangar at Heathrow, and though I know now as a cold hard fact that I will go to my grave having never flown on the Concorde, I have discovered—to my joy—that I can live like this. It actually isn't so bad. I look in my rearview mirror, I see the Concorde, and, frankly, it fits in just fine with all the other relics of the past. There's the penny-farthing bicycle with its comically mismatched wheels...there's the Concorde, pointy-nosed icon of late-20th-century glamour...there's the Normandie.... No problem at all. I have adjusted.

Part of it is that, on the train back from Heathrow that day, scribbling on a legal pad, I came up with a theory. "Glamour is the first casualty of Progress" is the theory's tagline. While the end of the Concorde might look like a backward step for Homo sapiens, that's just an optical illusion. The fact is that we have e-mail now, and broadband videoconferencing. The fatal problem for the Concorde—deeper than the grubby, prosaic issues of revenue streams and the bursting of the dot-com bubble—is surely that no one really needs to fly that fast anymore. The days of a CEO having to streak through the sky at twice the speed of sound, exploding through conference-room doors on far-flung continents to pant "No. No. My vote is No," are behind us. We aren't slowing down at all. In fact, we've accelerated to such a ridiculous speed that, just as we once broke the sound barrier, we have now broken the geography barrier. We aren't only faster than sound these days, we're faster than travel.

It actually feels rather pleasant to have the Concorde there in the rearview mirror. It's a comfort. The 34 years that will now presumably come to be known as the Concorde Era will be remembered for their unbridled exuberance and optimism. In our anxious present, that spare-no-expense decadence feels an awful lot like innocence, lost but not forgotten.

BRUNO MADDOX is the author of a novel, My Little Blue Dress.


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