American Airlines announced Tuesday that it will purchase 20 aircraft from Boom Supersonic, a startup that builds planes that can travel faster than the speed of sound. The order comes after United Airlines announced last year that he would buy 15 of the company’s Overture aircraft. Passenger flights are not expected until the end of 2010, but if all goes according to plan, commercial supersonic flight could return for the first time since the days of the Concorde.
According to Boom, the company’s planes are designed to fly twice as fast as normal flights. That’s fast enough to travel from Newark to London in just 3.5 hours and from Los Angeles to Honolulu in just 3 hours. The first of these flights is scheduled for 2026, and the company plans to start carrying passengers by 2029. American Airlines has the option to purchase 40 more.
But there is another twist. Boom is also making these flights environmentally friendly, promising that these planes will be “net zero carbon from day one” and rely entirely on sustainable aviation fuel recycled from waste and organic sources. We want to be gentle.
Boom’s deals with United and American come as the high environmental costs associated with flying face increased scrutiny. The move to stricter aviation emissions regulations is now on the rise globally, and airlines are increasingly touting plans to reduce their environmental impact. Activists like Greta Thunberg have pushed the idea that people should stop flying altogether. And the airline industry is currently experiencing a surge in summer travel, cancellations and flight delays.
“Investing in current operations should be management’s sole focus,” Dennis Tadger, a spokesman for the American Airlines Pilots Guild, told The Associated Press. If there is no change in how we schedule that pilot, these will just be supersonic cancellations.”
The idea of supersonic flight is attractive because it is so fast that it can shorten transoceanic flight times. Needless to say, it would be great if we could travel faster than the speed of sound.
But the prospect of eco-friendly supersonic flight is very ambitious (and potentially impossible), as the world’s first and last commercial supersonic airliner, the Concorde, demonstrated several years ago. not the goal. It also comes with its own set of challenges, from regulatory hurdles to solving noise pollution. Achieving supersonic flight economically is an extremely difficult task amid concerns about climate change. Some experts say the idea of eco-friendly supersonic flight is almost self-contradictory. According to them, Concorde was pretty terrible in terms of emissions.
“One of the big problems with the Concorde was that it was thought to be very bad for the environment,” Janet Bednarek, a professor of aviation history at the University of Dayton, told Recode last year. “It burned a lot of fuel, but it also polluted the upper atmosphere.”
The history of supersonic airliners actually goes back decades. The Concorde, operated by British Airways and Air France, was able to fly at Mach 2.01, just over twice his speed of sound. This jet famously helped Phil Collins perform concerts in London and Philadelphia (via New York). On the same day. But despite its impressive speed, the Concorde had major problems. Supersonic flight requires a large amount of jet fuel, and the engine noise inside the aircraft is known to be noisy.Flights are also historically very expensive: Concorde round-trip tickets A three-and-a-half-hour flight between New York and London costs about $10,000. The Concorde’s last commercial flight was in 2003, after the 2000 crash killed more than 100 of him and created increasingly insurmountable economic problems.
In recent years, a number of startups have been working to bring supersonic flight back to life. At the forefront is Boom, which has already raised at least $270 million in funding and has plans for an Air Force deal, a prototype jet and a manufacturing facility in North Carolina. Atlanta-based Hermeus and Virgin Galactic are developing a unique design for a supersonic jet. But in 2021, Aerion Supersonic, one of the major companies attempting to build supersonic aircraft, announced it would shut down, citing “extremely difficult” economies that would delay production of the first jet.
There is also increasing research into solving the sonic boom, the amazing sound produced when a supersonic aircraft breaks the sound barrier. NASA is working with Lockheed Martin on a supersonic research aircraft, and NASA told Vox in 2016 that it was capable of a “quiet supersonic plane,” potentially solving these high-speed flight hurdles. In January 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued final rules for testing supersonic aircraft, creating a framework for these startups to move forward with flight testing.
To reduce its environmental impact, Boom’s planes use sustainable aviation fuel. United is reportedly investing in fuel made from “cellulosic feedstock” and “municipal solid waste.” However, its limited supply may make it better used on other planes. According to research According to Dan Rutherford, director of the International Clean Transportation Council’s aviation program, supersonic planes require many times more fuel per passenger than regular air travel.
“We want you to believe that American Airlines is allocating very expensive fuel to very inefficient aircraft,” Rutherford told Recode. “Probably just burning the cheapest fossil fuel available.”
A Boom spokesperson previously told Recode that it is working with United to ensure it does not adversely affect the supply of sustainable jet fuel available to other aircraft.
There are other challenges that put Boom, American and United’s goals in doubt. For one thing, it’s not clear how many passengers would be willing to pay just to save a few hours. The companies haven’t disclosed how much supersonic jet tickets will end up costing, but they’re likely to cost more than a typical economy-class seat (Delta’s CEO said these planes are ” skeptical of “reliable revenue generation”). There is also the potential for sonic boom challenges and noise pollution around airports. And while Boom is still working on the engine, it’s working with Rolls-Royce on one design.
Some are more optimistic, saying that improvements in technology that didn’t exist in the Concorde era could make supersonic flight a success.
Bloomberg’s editorial board said in March 2021, “Supersonics connects major cities like never before, significantly expands global business networks, enhances America’s competitive edge, and transforms industries that have been stagnant for decades. The public is not hard to believe.”
The editorial board added that environmental impacts need to be studied and supersonic flights must meet international regulations on carbon offsets.
Aviation historian Bednarek says future flights should focus not on speed or size, but on energy efficiency and less environmental damage.
“If they do that, God bless them, they have really accomplished something,” Bednarek said. “It will prove to be much more challenging than some of the celebratory ads that are out now seem to suggest.”
Update, Aug 17, 2022, 12:45 PM: This article was originally published on June 3, 2021 and has been updated to note the latest agreement between American Airlines and Boom Supersonic.