The Week (US)
Flying: Big promises for a new supersonic plane
Supersonic passenger flights could be making a comeback, said Lauren Hirsch in The New York Times. Nearly two decades after the last flight of the Concorde in 2003, United Airlines announced last week that it “was ordering 15 jets that can travel faster than the speed of sound from Boom Supersonic, a startup in Denver.” Boom, which has partnered with Rolls-Royce on its engine, claims its aircraft will travel at a rate of Mach 1.7, or 1.7 times the speed of sound. The engines will “rely entirely on sustainable aviation fuel,” including a mechanism for direct-air capture of carbon dioxide sucked from the atmosphere. Though it has yet to produce a flying prototype, Boom aims to whisk passengers from New York to London in just 3 hours 15 minutes before the end of the decade.
It’s crazy that “getting from New York to London takes roughly as long now as it did in the days of disco,” said Bloomberg.com in an editorial. Traveling supersonically could “connect major cities as never before, vastly extend global business networks, boost American competitiveness, and enliven an industry that has been stagnating for decades.” The only comparison we have is the Concorde. But improvements in materials science and technology have made these aircraft “lighter, quieter, more efficient, and less polluting.”
Boom’s sustainability claims sound too good to be true, said Tom McKay in Gizmodo.com. United’s announcement “doesn’t actually say the jets will run on sustainable fuel, just that they’re ‘optimized’ for it.” That’s likely because Boom’s partner, Prometheus Fuels, “is still refining and scaling up its processes” for zero-emissions aviation, which involves converting CO2 from the atmosphere into fuel. The better question is whether United can figure out the business model, said Jon Sindreu in The Wall Street Journal. “The one constant in aviation economics is that price is the overwhelming factor in buying plane tickets.” A 2020 poll found that 32 percent of respondents said they would be willing to pay at least 25 percent more to reduce travel time by half. But the Concorde struggled to sell its tickets at a 10 percent premium above first-class fares.
Boom isn’t the only supersonic startup on a mission, said Paul Sillers in CNN.com. California-based Exosonic is currently building “a Mach 1.8 Presidential jet.” A Boston company, Spike Aerospace, is designing a smaller supersonic aircraft for 12 to 18 passengers. However, the closest to production, Aerion, abruptly ran out of financial fuel and shut down last month despite
$11.2 billion in pledged sales, and backing from Boeing, General Electric, and NetJets.