Simon Kelner: That beautiful and long-dead symbol of the future

Kelner's view



A court case taking place in Paris at the moment may have passed you by. Continental Airlines and some of its engineers, who were blamed for the Concorde crash in 2000 that cost 113 lives, are appealing against a conviction for negligence.

What struck me about the case was how quickly Concorde – that most potent symbol of an era of technological revolution – seems such a distant memory. Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of the last commercial flight of the plane which, for those of us of a certain vintage, was a thing of ceaseless wonder.

As a schoolchild, I vividly remember the footage of Concorde taking off for its maiden flight from an airfield near Bristol. I bought the commemorative stamps. I recall the sense of national pride and the feeling that our horizons, almost literally, had expanded. It wasn't quite man-on-the-moon stuff, but it left a deep and lasting impression.

It wasn't a demotic means of transport, being out of the reach of all except the very, very rich. But that's not the point. Unless you lived under the Heathrow flightpath, it was something of an event every time you saw this magnificent craft in the sky.

And then came the Paris crash. And then the attacks of 11 September.

Suddenly the sort of people who could afford to fly on it weren't quite so interested. Thus it was that Concorde made its last passenger flight on 24 October 2003.

I was fortunate enough to be on that last trip from New York to Heathrow, along with a sprinkling of celebs. It was a quite moving experience.

A grandstand was built at Heathrow to welcome the big bird and news programmes had live coverage of our final approach over London. There were tears on the ground and in the air.

It seems incredible that so many people could get so emotional about an inanimate object. But Concorde was so much more than that and still its legend lives on. Discovery Channel has recently been showing an excellent documentary on the last flight – remarkable for many things and not just how much younger we all look – and there are campaign groups determined to get the plane in the sky again for heritage flights and there has been some talk of a ceremonial role for the Olympics.

Several years ago, British Airways removed the mini-Concorde at the entrance to Heathrow when the owners of the airport increased the rent on the plot five-fold. I still miss it every time I go to Heathrow.

But the most overriding feeling I have is that, in years to come, people will look back at the end of the Concorde era with astonishment.

"Just a minute," they'll say, "you invented a plane that meant you could arrive in New York before you took off? And you did what? You scrapped it?"

The disbelief of future generations will be as acute as the sense of loss felt by those of us who saw Concorde as symbolic of a time when anything was possible.

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