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TOPIX BRITAIN CONCORDE FAREWELL
Associated PressSpectators wave at the third and final British Airways Concorde to land at London’s Heathrow airport Friday as supersonic commercial flight service came to an end.

Associated Press

LONDON - The Concorde bowed out Friday with a spectacular triple-landing finale, closing an era of supersonic passenger travel and leaving the skies to the slower, cheaper jets that proved to be the future of air travel.

Three supersonic planes glided into Heathrow Airport within minutes of one another, a majestic send-off for an aircraft that was a technological marvel but an expensive commercial dud.

Flight 002, the plane's final trans-Atlantic passenger flight from New York, touched down last, at 4:05 p.m., close behind two other British Airways Concordes. One flew from Edinburgh, Scotland, carrying winners of a competition; the other had taken off from Heathrow an hour and a half earlier and whooshed invited guests over the Bay of Biscay at twice the speed of sound.

The jet from New York's John F. Kennedy Airport zoomed 11 crew and 100 passengers, many of them celebrities and aviation enthusiasts, across the Atlantic in about 31/2 hours. Passengers sipped champagne and snapped pictures as they flew.

"Concorde was born from dreams, built with vision, and operated with pride," said Capt. Michael Bannister, who was British Airways' chief Concorde pilot and flew the last trans-Atlantic trip.

Not everyone loved the slim, elegant jet. Over the years, many criticized its enormous roar, heavy fuel use and the pollutants it emitted. In New York, U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner hosted a champagne toast to celebrate Concorde's demise.

But tens of thousands of fans lined the road outside Heathrow to get a final look at the plane that epitomized jet-set glamour.

Julia Zuk, 50, who lives near Heathrow, said she enjoyed her daily glimpses of the elegant jet and didn't minded the noise.

"It's like wearing stilettos," she said. "They hurt your feet, but you know they look a lot sexier than ordinary shoes."

It was a bittersweet end to nearly 28 years of commercial supersonic travel. British Airways and Air France, the only carriers to fly the Concorde, announced in April that they would retire the jets, citing ballooning costs and dwindling ticket sales. Air France grounded its supersonic fleet in May.

The last British Airways flight for paying passengers was from London to New York on Thursday. Friday's New York-London travelers flew for free.

The Concorde, conceived and built by the British and French governments, began commercial service in January 1976. It was hailed as a technological marvel, but its economics were shaky and it never made back the billions of tax dollars invested in it.

Airlines had little interest in such expensive, fuel-guzzling jets. The Concorde's limited range, and rules that forbade it from setting off sonic booms over land meant it mostly stuck to its trans-Atlantic back-and-forth.

Copyright © 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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