hopes to reintroduce supersonic travel before the end of the decade, using a plane that is currently only a concept drawing — the prototype hasn't even flown yet.
The airline announced on Thursday that it intends to purchase 15 Boom Supersonic jets, with an option for 35 more, once the start-up company develops a plane that can fly faster than the speed of sound while meeting safety and environmental standards.
United hopes to begin transporting passengers on the plane in 2029, claiming that it will cut flights between London
and the New York
area to 3 1/2 hours and make Tokyo only six hours from San Francisco
United declined to discuss financial terms, but Boom CEO
Blake Scholl stated that the deal
was worth $3 billion, or $200 million per plane, with no of the typical aircraft discounting.
The last flight of the supersonic Concorde, which British
Airways and Air France
began using in 1976 to zip passengers across the Atlantic in luxury, was in 2003, three years after an Air France Concorde crashed into a hotel shortly after takeoff from Paris, killing everyone on board as well as four people
on the ground.
Several companies are working on new supersonic jets that would use less fuel and emit fewer greenhouse gases than the Concorde.
Boom is working on an 88-seat plane called Overture, which it claims will be the first supersonic airliner to fly on so-called sustainable fuel. Scholl said a one-third scale prototype will fly later this year or early in 2022.
According to the Denver
company, the plane will be capable of reaching speeds of up to 1.7 times the speed of sound, or about 1,300 mph, which is slower than the Concorde but more than twice as fast as many current commercial aircraft.
United's support is a significant boost for Boom, as another supersonic contender, Aerion, announced last month that it was running out of funds to put its plane, the AS2, into production.
Because of the sonic booms they produce, supersonic jets are frequently prohibited over populated areas, which eliminates many potential overland routes by forcing the planes to fly at less efficient subsonic speeds.
United Airlines, based in Chicago
, believes that its coastal hubs in San Francisco and Newark, New Jersey
, as well as its corporate-traveler clientele, qualify it to offer supersonic service.
Mike Leskinen, United's vice president of corporate development and a former aerospace analyst, said the airline hopes to offer both premium and economy
seating, but no final decisions on cabin layout have been made.
United is concerned about the high fares that contributed to the demise of the Concorde and believes that the cost of operating the Boom plane will decrease over time, as it has for other jets.
The Concorde was the pride
of British and French aircraft companies, ushering in a new era of long-distance rapid travel. The plane had a distinctive delta-wing design, making it easily recognizable as it streaked overhead on its way to New York or Dulles Airport outside Washington
Despite its cachet, the plane never gained widespread acceptance; sonic booms limited its land routes, and its high costs and small size compared to other jets made tickets prohibitively expensive for anyone but the wealthy or well-connected.
According to Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst for Atmosphere Research
, the Boom jet appears to be aimed at business
travelers, but corporations are trying to cut travel costs and may resist sending employees on supersonic flights if the fares are too high.
Scholl claims that thanks to decades of engine and fuselage advancements, the Boom jet will be 75% cheaper to operate than the Concorde.
“This is going to be a ticket that is affordable to a lot more people than supersonic has ever been,” Scholl predicted, predicting that supersonic flight will revolutionize air travel
in the same way that jets replaced most large propeller-driven planes.
Some aviation enthusiasts are skeptical, pointing out that developing a new plane costs billions of dollars.
Teal Group aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia believes that if supersonic airliners were profitable, Boeing and Airbus would build them.
“It tells you that the huge, established players aren’t seeing it,” he said, adding, “There is no reason they couldn’t do this. There is no secret sauce that Boom keeps somewhere in a safe.”