The year 1976 will be the first of a new era of air transport In the Western World, British Airways and Air France will inaugurate the supersonic age with Concorde services between London and Bahrain and between Paris and Rio de Janeiro. In Russia the TU 144 will enter service with Aeroflot.

Are we justified in saying that Concorde will introduce a "new" era in transport? New eras in transport have begun whenever a new type of vehicle has made travel markedly more convenient and comfortable, and that has always included making it faster. In their day, the railway train, the steamship and the first airliners all fulfilled this requirement. It was not so much that they opened up new routes as that they made the established routes easier going for the traveller.

Measured by that yardstick, the subsonic jetliner itself can be said to have ushered in a new transport age, Concorde's performance "edge" over the subsonic jets is greater than the one they enjoyed over their predecessors. Concorde passengers will find that supersonic speed opens up entirely new possibilities of efficient and relaxed intercontinental travel.

It is an experience that cannot be fully appreciated until it has been lived through, and only then if the passenger has some first-hand knowledge of long-distance air journeys. To be told or to read that Concorde cuts three hours off a six-hour subsonic flight time makes an impact, but the full impact of that time-saving can be felt only by making the flight in Concorde.

Travel boredom and fatigue

For the average air traveller who flies regularly on business, a trip of three hours' duration is just about the limit before boredom begins to set in. In three hours, he has had a drink and an unhurried meal, he has looked through his papers and made some notes. Then he realises that he is only halfway on his journey, and the boredom curve begins to rise. Those next three hours seem twice as long as the first three. A good in flight film can help to pass the time, but there does not appear to be enough good films to go round. Boredom is not a particularly tragic state, but it is depressing and is a factor in fatigue.

On the longest Concorde route sector, the passenger will find that at the end of those first three "tolerable" hours, the aircraft is starting on its descent to land. The boredom factor will hardly have had time to come into operation. It is now, as the stewardess makes her arrival announcement and the passenger adjusts his watch to local time, that the supersonic message gets through. One has seen this happen scores of time when greeting passengers disembarking from Concorde demonstration flights.

Many of them have gone aboard prepared to admit that the Concorde looks a beautiful aeroplane but otherwise in what the Scots would call a "canny" mood. During the flight they duly made the polite noises: praised the smoothness and calm of supersonic travel and, on occasions, applauded the Machmeter for registering Mach 2. But the reaction on arrival is something quite different from mere politeness. When the fact of the time-saving hits home, when they realise that if they had travelled by subsonic aircraft they would still be several hours away, a common comment is: "This has spoiled me for flying the old way."

Jet lag

In referring to boredom and fatigue, we have been speaking of average subjective reactions, and we accept that there are wide variations in individual tolerance of these factors. Some people find a long flight totally exhausting and take several days to recover; other people are "bright-eyed and bushy-tailed" after a few hours of sleep on arrival. There are several scientifically-based methods of measuring the amount of recovery time that the normal passenger requires after a long flight. The best-known - the ICAO formula - takes account of four factors: the length of the flight, the number of time zones crossed on route, the time of day at departure and the time of day at arrival.

A considerable saving in passenger recovery time is indicated when this formula is applied to Concorde operations on typical routes. This saving derives not only from the shorter journey time, but from the improved scheduling flexibility that supersonic cruise speed allows. Schedules can usually be so arranged as to avoid arrivals and departures late at night or in the small hours of the morning. Services from Los Angeles to Melbourne or from Melbourne to London could be scheduled so as to save the Concorde passengers two days recovery time, a saving that, for the business executive, would far outweigh the extra fare.

Commuting by Concorde

By making it less exhausting and timeconsuming, Concorde will encourage more business travel. For the first time, a day return trip will become practicable between a number of the world's "big city pairs," such as London or Paris and New York; Tokyo and Hong Kong; and San Francisco and Mexico City. This kind of day return trip is not just a gimmick; a businessman in any of these cities will be able to travel to the "city pair", do several hours of work and be back in his own bed before midnight without ever moving out of his normal bodily rhythm.

Even if a businessman does not want to compress his Transatlantic sorties into one day, he can still take advantage of the greater flexibility of supersonic operations To illustrate that point consider the scope for improving the service from New York to Europe. At present' because of airport curfews at both ends of the journey' flights to Europe can be scheduled from New York only up to about 10 a.m. and from late afternoon onward. Concorde's greater speed will enable it to be scheduled for departure time from New York up to about 2 p.m. Today, it is only travellers in the Eastern states who can catch a 7 a.m. departure from their own city and make a connection in New York for a same-day arrival in Europe. Concorde's later departure times will extend this facility to cover about two-thirds of the USA.

To put the matter quite simply, supersonic travel is better travel. It will cost more, but for those passengers whose time means money, it will be better value. Nor does one need to apologise for the fact that, at first, supersonic service will be an elitist form of travel. Middle-aged people today have seen the subsonic airliner develop from a transport vehicle for the privileged few into an essential component of the mass-market package-tour holiday.

Concorde's future development will follow the same trend. It may take a long time for supersonic travel to become the standard form of air transport but' sooner or later, this will happen. When there is a better product available' even at a higher price, most people will want it, and more and more people will contrive to have it.

In the supersonic age, this will be a smaller, more closely-knit world. Scarcely any two major cities anywhere on earth will be more than a 12-hour Concorde flight apart. Two cities which will be an exception to this rule are Melbourne and London, but even they will be less than 14 hours distant from each other. No continent will gain more from the supersonic speeding-up of international communications than Australia, separated as it is by vast distances from the rest of the world.

The shrinking world

Whenever in the past it has become possible for the first time to complete a journey within 12 hours - a working day - the volume of traffic on that route has started to expand. On the North Atlantic crossing' jet-powered airliners were the first to break through the 12-hour barrier, and this was without doubt the main reason for the upsurge in traffic that occurred on these routes in the early 1960s.

What the subsonic jets did for the North Atlantic' Concorde will do for the TransPacific routes. Clearly, its time-savings between Europe and North America will have great passenger appeal. but it is over the long route sectors of the Pacific that the supersonic airliner will come into its own.

The rate of industrial and economic expansion in the Pacific basin has in recent years probably exceeded that in any other part of the world and although the rate may decelerate, growth will continue. Prospects for Pacific business and Pacific travel rest mainly on three firm bases - the American West Coast, Japan and Australia. The increasing interdependence of the three areas is reflected in the growing air traffic between them, and as much of this is business traffic Concorde will achieve a substantial market penetration.

Furthermore, there will be few sonic boom restrictions to curtail Concorde's time-savings over the long Pacific routes. Most of the international airports in the Pacific area are situated either on islands or near continental coastlines, and on the great majority of Concorde route sectors the aircraft can be routed to fly almost the whole journey over the sea.

In the end, we come back to the basic point that the supersonic age inaugurated by Concorde will be a new era in transport, an era of easier and speedier world communication that will benefit everyone. Concorde is the first of a new breed of airliners. Without harming the world environment, it will set new standards of travel comfort and efficiency. Once these standards have been set, the travelling public will insist on their being maintained and improved. There will be derivatives of Concorde, possibly produced in co-operation between Europe and the United States.

But, meantime, Concorde stands poised to go into airline service - and stands poised for success.