United Airlines wants to bring back supersonic air travel

The era of supersonic commercial flights ended when Concorde completed its final voyage Between New York and London in 2003But the allure of ultrafast air travel never faded.

President Biden thought of supersonic flights While discussing its infrastructure plan in April. And on Thursday, United Airlines said it is ordering 15 jets that can travel faster than the speed of sound from a boom supersonic start-up in Denver. The airline said it has the option to increase its order to 35 aircraft.

BOOM, which has raised $270 million from venture capital firms and other investors, said it plans to introduce the aircraft in 2025 and begin flight tests in 2026. It expects the plane, which it calls Overture, to carry passengers before the end of the decade.

But start-ups have plans already slipped At least once, and it has to overcome a number of hurdles, including gaining approval from the Federal Aviation Administration and regulators in other countries. Even established manufacturers have stumbled when introducing new or redesigned aircraft. Boeing’s 737 MAX was shut down for nearly two years after two crashes.

The deal is United’s latest attempt to position itself as a risk-taker that’s rocking an industry that’s justified getting back on your feet After a devastating pandemic. the airline announced $20 million investment Archer, an electric air taxi start-up, in February, and it’s working on a “steady drumbeat” of more such bets, said Michael Leskinen, who heads corporate development at United.

“We are really confident in the future,” said Mr Leskinen. “Aerospace takes a long time to innovate. And so if you don’t start determining these opportunities now, you’ll miss them.”

United and Boom would not disclose financial details, including the cost of each plane, but Mr Leskinen said the economics should be similar to a new Boeing 787, a wide-bodied plane that airlines typically use on international routes. United has committed to buy the planes if Boom manages to produce them, secure regulatory approval and hit other goals, such as meeting its sustainability requirements.

BOOM also plans to build aircraft for Japan Airlines, an investor in the company.

It is not clear whether the boom has resolved the problems forcing British Airways and Air France to stop using Concorde on trans-Atlantic flights. High cost, security concerns and flagging demand.

“There was no airline interest,” said Henry Hartvelt, a travel industry analyst and consultant on why supersonic flights fell short. “And a big part of the airline’s lack of interest was not having engines that were commercially available that would allow supersonic jets to be economically viable.”

Two decades later, some start-up companies including Boom and Spike Aerospace are moving forward with new designs and plans.

Boom, which is working with British jet engine maker, Rolls-Royce, said its aircraft would be more efficient than the Concorde; United estimates it will be 75 percent more efficient. Boom’s planes won’t make noise like a Concorde because their engines will only produce a sonic boom while flying over water “when there’s no one to hear it,” said Boom’s chief executive Blake Schaul, who previously worked at Amazon and Groupon. Were.

In recent years, many people have also been concerned about Air travel’s contribution to climate change. According to experts supersonic jets are expected to use more fuel per passenger per mile than regular jets.

Mr Sholl said the engines of Boom’s planes would be entirely dependent on sustainable aviation fuel, which can be made from waste, plants and other organic materials. Experts say such a fuel can 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 the flights, which it would launch out of its centers in Newark and San Francisco. But another big question mark about the plane is how many people would be willing to spend the thousands of dollars that are likely to be spent on each ticket for a supersonic flight.

United has long focused on business travelers, including flights to Israel, China and other destinations that are popular with executives and offer more business class seats on its planes. Mr Leskinen called the idea of ​​supersonic travel a “really powerful tool for business”.

“You can have a business meeting and still be at home to have dinner with your family,” he said.

But expect corporate and international travel Gradual return from pandemic, and some experts say it may not be fully recovered for years as companies have realized they can be effective without in-person meetings.

“The key to the success of supersonic transportation is the overlooked, underappreciated corporate travel manager who has been moved to perhaps one of the worst offices in his company – and his primary function is to reduce corporate spending on business travel,” said Mr. Heartvelt.

If flights save a third of travel time but cost a third more, travel managers might say, “I don’t know if we can justify that,” he said.

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