The era of commercial supersonic flights came to an end with the last voyage of the Concorde between New York and London in 2003, but the appeal of ultra-fast air travel is never entirely dead.
President Biden pondered supersonic flights when discussing his infrastructure plan in April. And on Thursday, United Airlines announced that it would order 15 jets that can fly faster than the speed of sound from Boom Supersonic, a start-up in Denver. The airline said it has the option to add up to 35 aircraft to its order.
Boom, which has raised $ 270 million from venture capital firms and other investors, plans to launch aircraft in 2025 and begin flight tests in 2026. It expects the aircraft it calls Overture to carry passengers before the end of the decade.
But the start-up has plans already slipped at least once, and it will have to overcome many obstacles, including approval from the Federal Aviation Administration and regulators in other countries. Even established manufacturers stumbled upon the introduction of new or revised aircraft. The Boeing 737 Max was on the ground for almost two years after two crashes.
The deal is United’s latest attempt to position itself as a risk taker shaking up an industry that is fair get back on your feet after a devastating pandemic. The airline announced that $ 20 million investment at an electric air taxi start-up, Archer, in February, and it’s working on a “steady drumbeat” of more such bets, said Michael Leskinen, who heads United’s corporate development.
“We are very confident about the future,” said Mr Leskinen. “Innovations in aerospace take a long time. So if you don’t start to show these opportunities now, you’ve missed them. “
United and Boom wouldn’t disclose financial details, including the cost of each aircraft, but Mr Leskinen said the economics should be roughly the same as a new Boeing 787, a wide-body aircraft that airlines typically use on international routes. United is committed to buying the aircraft if Boom manages to produce them, obtain regulatory approvals, and meet other goals, such as meeting sustainability requirements.
Boom also plans to build aircraft for Japan Airlines, an investor in the company.
What is not clear is whether Boom solved the problems that forced British Airways and Air France to stop using the Concorde on transatlantic flights. high costs, safety concerns, and declining demand.
“There was no airline interest,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and advisor, as to why supersonic flights languished. “And a big part of the airlines’ lack of interest was that there weren’t any commercially available engines that would allow a supersonic jet to be economically viable.”
Two decades later, some startups, including Boom and Spike Aerospace, are pushing new designs and plans.
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Boom, who works with Rolls-Royce, the UK engine manufacturer, said its plane was more efficient than the Concorde; United estimates it will be 75 percent more efficient. Boom’s planes won’t be as loud as the Concorde because their engines only produce a sonic boom when they fly over water, “when no one hears it,” said Blake Scholl, Boom CEO who previously worked at Amazon and Groupon.
In recent years, many people have also become increasingly concerned about Contribution of air traffic to climate change climate. Experts believe that supersonic jets use more fuel per passenger and mile than normal jets.
Mr Scholl said Boom’s aircraft engines would be based entirely on sustainable aviation fuel, which can be made from waste, plants and other organic matter. Experts say such a fuel could reduce emissions, but its supply is limited, it is expensive, and its use does not eliminate greenhouse gas emissions.
United said it was too early to know how much it would charge for flights departing from its hubs in Newark and San Francisco. But another big question mark regarding the airplane is how many people are willing to spend the thousands of dollars each ticket for a supersonic flight is likely to cost.
United has long focused on business travelers, including adding flights to Israel, China and other executive-favorite destinations and offering more business class seats on its aircraft. Mr. Leskinen called the idea of supersonic travel a “really powerful tool for business”.
“You can have a business meeting and still be home to have dinner with your family,” he said.
However, business and international travel is expected are slowly recovering from the pandemic, and some experts say it may not fully recover for years because companies have realized they can be effective without so many face-to-face meetings.
“The key to supersonic transportation success is the overlooked, underrated business travel manager, who is likely to be relegated to one of the worst offices in his company – and his primary role is to minimize corporate travel expenses,” said Mr. Harteveldt.
If flights save a third of the travel time, but also cost a third more, travel managers can end up saying, “I don’t know if we can justify that,” he said.