Nevertheless, a frisson of excitement (and a great deal of skepticism, going by the LinkedIn comments) went through the aviation world last week at United Airlines’ disclosure on 03JUN21, that it would be purchasing 15 supersonic Boom ‘Overture’ passenger jets, with an option for 35 more, with plans to take off in 2029.
Boom Supersonic’s Founder and CEO, Blake Scholl states in one of the many impressive videos on the company’s official website, that his vision is for people to be able to fly to “anywhere in the world in four hours for 100 bucks.” It’s questionable whether United shares the pricing goal, but the two companies definitely align on United’s mission of “Connecting People. Uniting the World.”
Not the first signatory, but the first U.S. airline and the first one to buy
United Airlines joins a few other airlines that already hold options for the Boom ‘Overture’. The actual ‘overture’ (pardon the pun) was made by Richard Branson in MAR16, when he confirmed that the Virgin Group holds options for 10 aircraft and would be involved in producing and testing the plane. Options for 15 aircraft are apparently held by an undisclosed European airline, whilst in DEC17, Japan Airlines confirmed a pre-order of up to 20 jets and has also been working with Boom on refining the aircraft design and defining the passenger experience. Boom currently has around 70 commitments on its books, mainly resulting from a handful of airlines at the Paris Air Show earlier in 2017. United Airlines, is, however, the first airline to agree to buy.
“The world’s first purchase agreement for net-zero carbon supersonic aircraft marks a significant step toward our mission to create a more accessible world,” Blake Scholl said. “United and Boom share a common purpose - to unite the world safely and sustainably. At speeds twice as fast, United passengers will experience all the advantages of life lived in person, from deeper, more productive business relationships to longer, more relaxing vacations to far-off destinations.”
Concorde’s first successor is all green
Finally, 18 years after a tearful goodbye was waved to the last Concorde flights, there is hope on the horizon again for supersonic travel. And supersonic travel with an upgrade at that. A 55-seater, Boom’s ‘Overture’ might only seat just over half as many passengers as Concorde (100) did, yet it is planned to be the first large commercial aircraft to fly on 100% (Prometheus) Sustainable Aviation Fuel, thus offering net-zero carbon flights from day one. It will be capable of flying at Mach 1.7, which is twice the speed of today’s fastest airliners, and is advertised at being able to “connect more than 500 destinations in nearly half the time” – citing 3.5 hours for potential United Newark to London routes, 4 hours for Newark to Frankfurt, and just 6 hours for San Francisco to Tokyo. However, noise pollution from the sonic boom is another factor and one that was the largest complaint against Concorde. Boom’s answer (though incongruent to its plan of spanning the world, since ocean flight will not always be possible in its envisaged network of more than 2,000 supersonic jets traversing the skies by 2035 by which time supersonic flight will be considered normal), is that it plans to only fly supersonic over sea.
Innovation taking off for real in 2029
“United continues on its trajectory to build a more innovative, sustainable airline and today’s advancements in technology are making it more viable for that to include supersonic planes. Boom’s vision for the future of commercial aviation, combined with the industry’s most robust route network in the world, will give business and leisure travelers access to a stellar flight experience,” United CEO, Scott Kirby stated. “Our mission has always been about connecting people and now working with Boom, we’ll be able to do that on an even greater scale.”
What many commentators on LinkedIn question, is the feasibility of what they see as a “great publicity stunt” becoming reality in less than a decade. Boom Supersonic’s plans are to go into production with the ‘Overture’ in 2022, with the first aircraft being ready for testing in 2025, initial flights starting in 2026, and proper passenger flights by 2029. Yet, the company is already testing its other aircraft, the XB-1, a ⅓-scale manned prototype, since it was rolled out last year. In addition, United and Boom will be working together to accelerate production of greater supplies of SAF, vital to securing a good network coverage. This is one aspect of the commercial agreement between the two companies which will see the purchase of the 15 airlines go ahead once Overture meets United’s demanding safety, operating and sustainability requirements.
What about cargo
In another of his company’s videos, Blake Scholl paints a fantastic futuristic picture of supersonic travel in 150 years from now and states “if you want to build a company that will do things that will continue to make the world a better place for a long period of time, you need to focus on things that will always matter, like speed, convenience, cost.”
And cargo? At a time where the pandemic is showing the importance of cargo, preighters are being flown to all corners of the earth, e-commerce is skyrocketing, cargo capacities are scarce, and passengers are still restricted in their air travel possibilities, no mention is made in the press release about cargo capabilities. Granted, the Concorde at just 2 meters more in length than the ‘Overture’ (60m), could only hold around 2.5 tons, but in today’s express, e-commerce parcel world, the question is how soon the Amazon Airs and Cainiaos of the world will turn to adding supersonic jets to their network requirements if these aircraft are to be up and flying in less than a decade’s time?
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