We’d flown in propeller-powered planes, then jets. Supersonic was the next evolutionary step in flying people around the world as the 1960s came to a close.
Nearly 50 years after Concorde’s maiden flight, supersonic flight is just another aviation pipe dream again as we queue up for cheap ‘flying buses’ which are not much different from the first successful commercial jets that flew in the late 1950s.
Flying, once a little bit glamorous, is now a trudge. Whilst Air Asia boasts that ‘Now Everyone Can Fly’, there was a time when flying was something you saved up months, or years, for. And you used to dress up too – no shorts and T-Shirts!
Just months before the Apollo 11 launch and Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon, the Concorde made its maiden flight in March 1969. The western world had just gone through a dramatic decade of change – music, politics, fashion, culture, war – and the Concorde would be the crowning technical glory of that tumultuous 10 years.
Only 20 were ever built but the best of Britian and France’s combined engineering excellence would not be able to overcome the decade ahead with a fuel crisis – the Concorde was a big jet fuel burner – and a new interest in ‘the environment’. The fuel crisis of the early 1970s and country’s concerns about the impact of sonic booms over voter’s heads, would leave only British Airways and Air France flying the Concorde on regular commercial services.
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Whilst the man landing on the moon grabbed the headlines, the Concorde was an equally brilliant masterpiece of engineering and a breathtaking distraction when compared to ‘normal’ jets. It’s swept-back wings, pointy nose, slim-line passenger cabin, all made it look, well, supersonic!
But its sleek, timeless lines were more an artifact of the physics required to fly the plane at 60,000 feet at twice the speed of sound. Even the designers admit they had little ‘wriggle room’ in the design. That it still looks like a futuristic design in 2018, fifty years after it was designed, is amazing.
A new book titled Supersonic: The Design and Lifestyle of Concorde, written by Lawrence Azerrad, lavishes love on the plane and the lifestyles of the people who flew it.
“A lot of designs that were inspired by the dream and optimism of the jet age retain an air of the era in which they were born. They were futuristic at the time, but they definitely seem nostalgic now.” said Lawrence, speaking to CNN.
Concorde flew commercially for 27 years, from 1976 to 2003, and brought London and New York closer together with a flying time of under four hours, typically a 7.5 hour flight.
“Concorde wasn’t originally intended to be this exclusive bird of the rich and famous,” said Azerrad.
“All airlines had orders for supersonic planes. It was only once political and ecological objections made it commercially untenable that it became an ultra-premium experience.”
Concorde’s eventual demise started on July 25, 2000 when an Air France Concorde, departing Paris, sucked up a piece of debris into its engines during take-off. The flaming Concorde took off but crashed soon after, killing all 113 people onboard. In an otherwise flawless service history, the tragedy grounded the remaining fleet. Services resumed 16 months later but the Concorde would not survive the new era of airlines operated by accountants and share-holders. The final flight was from New York to Heathrow on October 24, 2003.
This writer was saving up for a flight from London to New York in the Concorde during the late 1990s – a trip in my generation’s most outstanding engineering achievement. To me it was a thing of beauty and a trip of a lifetime. It never happened due to the eventual failure of the airlines to sustain a business model.
With only 100 seats, all business-class sized and only four seats across, it wasn’t a large cabin. But, as you watched the speedometer climb to Mach 2, you could look outside at the dark purple sky and ponder the curvature of the earth, 60,000 feet about the ground (18,200 metres).
“It was kind of like a social club in the sky,” said author Azerrad.
“You could have Paul McCartney leading a sing-along of Beatles songs with the entire airplane, or Phil Collins famously taking the plane to play at Live Aid in the UK and the US on the same day. And then royalty, of course: the queen, the pope, countless heads of states.”
Concorde wasn’t the only supersonic passenger jet to fly. The Soviet-built Tupolev Tu-144 – which looked remarkably similar but “lacked the elegance and grace of Concorde,” according to Azerrad – had a brief commercial stint in the late 1970s.
By all accounts the Tu-144 had all the finesse of a KGB interrogation.
Supersonic: The Design and Lifestyle of Concorde, published by Prestel, is available now.
PHOTO: Daily Mail
Can Thailand lure the Chinese back?
After half a decade of incredible growth in Chinese tourism to Thailand, the numbers are now in a tail-spin as numbers drop off around the country.
With annual rises of 20-50% per annum for half a decade there has been a big drop off in the last quarter (Q3) of 2018. This is the key statistic as compiled in two reports, one from Standard Chartered Bank and another from the Kasikorn Research Centre.
The numbers were peaking, even in the middle of the traditional wet-season this year, until a tour boat sank in Phuket during early July, resulting in the death of 47 Chinese tourists, many of them children. The subsequent ‘investigation’, botched PR attempts, mis-speaks from the deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan and the power of Chinese social media have seen the Chinese pursuing other locations for their travels.
But C-Trip, one of China’s largest online travel portals, says Thailand is still a popular destination and that the drops in Chinese tourist numbers to Thailand will slow down and maybe even rise again from the start of next year.
“Thailand remained at the top of the list for Chinese travellers during the annual Golden Week holiday although Japanese travel rose much faster than Thailand’s numbers, which were almost static this year.”
The Tourism and Sports Ministry says, “Arrivals from China, which account for 30% of Thailand’s total tourist mix, fell 12% in August. They grew only 3% during China’s Golden Week holiday, less than expected.”
There has been a scramble to try and keep the Land of Smiles attractive to Chinese booking their holidays with PR efforts like providing specific lanes at Immigration for Chinese travellers, proposals to provide multiple entry visas, instead of single entry. They’ve even proposed dropping the visa fees for Chinese tourists altogether.
The Chinese Yuan has also dropped against the Thai Baht – a fallout of the ensuing US/China trade war – that is affecting the spending power of Chinese when they arrive in Thailand and deter them making a booking in the first place.
But there is some positive news with the ratio of independent Chinese tourists (FITs) to tour groups rising to 7:3 this year from 6:4 last year, according to the Thai Tourism and Sports ministry. That’s the majority of Chinese deciding to visit Thailand based on their own bookings and visiting attractions of their own choice.
Standard Chartered Bank is still predicting that the number of all tourists in 2018 will still surpass past records, despite the drop in the Chinese tourist bookings.
“Thailand received 26 million international tourists overall from January-August 2018, up 10% year-on-year, on track to reach the government’s target of 38 million this year,” according to Tim Leelahaphan, an economist from SCB.
Tour operators boycott visits to Similan and Surin islands to protest new restrictions
The tour operators have had enough of the winding back of tour boat operations and are now resorting to boycotting and ‘disrupting’ the tours in order to get their protests heard.
About 50 tour operators in Phuket and Phang nga say they’re suspending boat trips to Similan-Surin islands in the Andaman sea (off the coast of Phang-Nga) today and tomorrow to protest against the decision of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plants Conservation to limit the number of visitors to the islands to 3,850 a day. The number also includes 525 scuba divers.
Thai PBS reports that the limitation of visitors comes into force today after the two main islands re-opened to tourists after several months of closure during the monsoon season.
Besides the limitation of visitors, overnight stay-overs are not permitted.
Tour operators met yesterday in Ban Tap Lamu in Thai Muang district of Phang nga to discuss the new restrictions which they say they oppose.
They say their objections are because the restrictions would affect their business and that they’ve already accepted advance bookings to tour the islands before the department issued its new restrictions.
They say they will take their tourists to other tourist attractions Monday and Tuesday this week while awaiting response from the department.
Tour operators have been notified of the reopening of the two islands for visitors and the restrictions and to get themselves prepared with their vessels being properly checked to ensure their sea worthiness and equipped with enough life vests for their passengers.
The PM’s Office Minister Kobsak Putrakul, who was in Phang nga over the weekend, received the tour operators’ complaint and promised to bring it to the attention of the department chief.
SOURCE: Thai PBS
Thailand – most visited destination among Chinese for Golden Week
The National News Bureau is reporting that the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) says Ctrip.com, China’s largest and most influential online travel agent, has ranked Thailand the number one global destination among Chinese tourists during this year’s National Day vacation – the Chinese Golden Week 2018.
Thailand comes out on top of Japan, Hong Kong SAR, Vietnam, Singapore, Taiwan, and Korea, among more than 1,000 destinations in nearly 100 countries. Favorite Thai destinations among Chinese tourists include Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, and Chiang Mai.
Mr. Yuthasak Supasorn, TAT Governor, said China is Thailand’s largest tourist market, and this latest Ctrip’s study shows that the kingdom continues to win the hearts of Chinese tourists with a wide range of attractions, ranging from local experiences, abundant natural beauty and a remarkable variety of activities, including soft adventure, health and wellness, weddings and honeymoons, and sports tourism.
The TAT is maintaining its annual target of 10.5-11 million arrivals from China, up from last year’s 9.8 million. Already this year, from January to August, Thailand has welcomed 7.7 million Chinese tourists, generating an estimated 423 billion baht.
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