United Airlines has announced that they plan to buy 15 supersonic planes that can fly at 1,300mph and will be able to cut the time it takes to fly from New York to London in half, down to 3,5 hours.
The company said the move “represents a leap forward in returning supersonic speeds to aviation”.
The deal with Boom Supersonic, a company based in Denver, Colorado, involves the purchase of 15 “Overture” aircraft, with an option to possibly buy another 35 planes.
The planes are expected to be rolled out in 2025, take flight in 2026, and start carrying passengers in 2029.
The last supersonic passenger plane, Concorde, flew for 27 years, starting in 1976.
Overture will be capable of flying at twice the speed of today’s passenger jets. United Airlines said the planes “can connect more than 500 destinations in nearly half the time”.
The company added: “Among the many future potential routes for United are Newark to London in just three and a half hours, Newark to Frankfurt in four hours and San Francisco to Tokyo in just six hours. Overture will also be designed with features such as in-seat entertainment screens, ample personal space, and contactless technology.”
United Airlines said Overture will use 100 per cent sustainable fuel and is expected to be the first large commercial aircraft that will be net-zero carbon from day one of flying. But according to experts, the supply of sustainable aviation fuel, which can be made from waste and plants, is limited, expensive and doesn’t put an end to emissions of greenhouse gases.
Boom revealed a prototype of a full-scale supersonic jet last year. It was the first plane of this kind to fly in almost 50 years.
But the company’s plans have been delayed in the past, and to achieve its lofty goals, the start-up would have to get approval from the Federal Aviation Administration and regulators in other countries. More established plane manufacturers have faltered when redesigning or launching new versions of their aircraft. The Boeing 737 Max was left on the ground for almost two years after two crashes.
The business of flying is in the process of returning to normal as the world tries to move beyond the pandemic. In February, United Airlines announced that they invested $20m in an electric air taxi start-up called Archer. The head of corporate development at United Airlines, Michael Leskinen, told The New York Times that the company is working on a “steady drumbeat” of similar investments.
“We are really confident in the future,” he told the paper. “Aerospace takes a long time to innovate. And so if you don’t start setting these opportunities out now, you will have missed them.”
United and Boom didn’t reveal the cost of the planes, but Mr Leskinen told The Times that the pricing should be similar to a new Boeing 787. According to Boeing’s website, the price for a 787 ranges from $248m to $338m.
United has committed to purchasing the planes if Boom reaches a number of goals, such as producing the aircraft, getting the approval of regulators and meeting sustainability requirements. United has estimated that the Boom planes will be 75 per cent more efficient than Concorde.
While United has yet to announce how much a ticket would cost, it’s likely to be in the thousands of dollars. Mr Leskinen said supersonic flight would be a “really powerful tool for business”.
“You can have a business meeting and still be home to have dinner with your family,” he said. But some companies have come to realize during the pandemic that they can be equally effective meeting business partners virtually. It could take years for business travel to get back to where it was before the pandemic.
“The key to the success of supersonic transportation is the overlooked, underappreciated corporate travel manager, who is probably relegated to one of the worst offices in his or her company, and his primary task is to minimize corporate spending on business travel,” travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt told The New York Times.
He added that if flights cut travel time by a third but also cost a third more, a corporate travel manager may say: “I don’t know if we can justify that.”