Is Air Travel About to Experience a Revolutionary Boom?

By William J. Furney

It’s all about speed and today’s crop of jetliners just don’t measure up. So says new US aviation firm Boom Supersonic. The Denver-based company’s mission is to “make the world dramatically more accessible”, by slashing flying times in half. 

“When we fly twice as fast, cities rarely visited become major travel destinations. We can attend meetings in far-off places and return for evenings with loved ones. Global leaders can solve crises in-person and children grow up in a world where nothing is foreign,” Boom says. 

Even though its Concorde-like planes have yet to make it off the drawing board and into the skies for testing and safety approval, global airlines are snapping them up. United, one of the largest US airlines, announced this week that it will buy 15 of the sleek craft, once approved for flight, with an option for another 35 of the supersonic jetliners. 

Boom’s first model in development is melodically called Overture and will, its maker says, use 100% sustainable fuel, thereby erasing concerns about thirsty supersonic planes like the retired Concorde — a joint project of the French and British whose fiery and fatal crash on takeoff in France 21 years ago in July spelled its end — harming the environment. Because the faster you want to move, the more power and fuel you need. 

All going well, Overture will come off production lines in four years, rocket into the skies in 2026 and start taking passengers by 2029, according to the newly minted aircraft manufacturer. 

“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,” said United boss Scott Kirby.”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.”

Japan Airlines is also getting on board with the Overture, as well as the US Air Force 

If Overture takes off, you can expect go fly from New York to London in 3.5 hours, instead of the current 6.3 hours; from San Francisco to Toyjo in six hours, instead of over 10; Singapore to Dubai in four hours instead of seven; Los Angeles to Seoul in almost seven hours instead of nearly 13; and from Los Angeles to Sydney in 8.5 hours instead of 40.5 hours. 

How much is all this fancier, faster, jet-setting going to cost? Hardly anyone apart from minted celebs and businessfolk could afford Concord’s steep fares, but Boom says flying on its zippy craft will be around about the business-ticket level — still off-putting for many, but then Overture will only have up to 88 seats seats, compared to hundreds on today’s commercial airliners. 

The other concern, apart from guzzling massive amounts of fuel, is the thunderous and deafening clap as supersonic craft pass the speed of sound, which, depending on the temperature, is around 1,200 kilometres an hour. It’s the sonic boom that gave the new planmaker its name, and it will get around the explosive noise by improvements in its aircraft design and not flying over populated areas, or land — meaning the Overture will reach its enormous speed while over oceans. 

“I’ll know we’ve succeeded when high-speed flight is considered normal,” Boom chief Blake Scholl says on the company’s website, which, somewhat surprisingly, has an online store as part of its website that sells water bottles, for $50, model planes not yet in service ($150), luggage tags that are “backordered” and cost $12 and a mug that’s priced at $12. 

The two main commercial aircraft manufacturers, America’s Boeing and Europe’s Airbus, don’t see a need for a supersonic plane; and given the pandemic and the worst-ever crisis in the aviation industry, as few people have been flying this past year and a half, it’s almost certain they’re not about to come up with anything faster than sound in the near future. They have enough trouble flogging their subsonic planes as it is.

So whether Boom’s supersonic dream of revolutionising air travel will be realised, or grounded, really is up in the air.

  • Title image is an artist’s impression of the Boom Overture. (Credit: Boom Supersonic.)