The return of supersonic aircraft: an airline ordered 20 jets but there are doubts about the viability of the project

This undated image provided by Boom Supersonic shows the Overture supersonic aircraft. (Boom Supersonic via AP)

American Airlines agreed to purchase up to 20 supersonic aircraft, that are still in the design phase and that are years away from flying, and deposited a non-refundable sum of money. Neither American nor the fabricante Boom Supersonic wanted to give financial details on Tuesday, including the size of American’s deposit.

American, which has also purchased options on another 40 aviones Boom Overturebecomes the Boom’s second US customer, after United Airlines announced last year the purchase of 15 planes.

Almost 20 years have passed since the last supersonic passenger flight made by the concordethe British-French plane that failed to prevail due to its high cost, both for passengers and for airlines.

Boom CEO Blake Scholl insists that his company’s plane will be different when it debuts in 2029, with tickets costing between $4,000 and $5,000 to fly from New York to London in about three and a half hours.

“There are tens of millions of passengers each year who fly business class on routes where Overture will give a big acceleration,” Scholl said in an interview, “And airlines will be able to do it profitably.”

Boom claims that his plane will have a top speed of 1.7 times the speed of sound, that is, some 2.100 km/h, and will transport between 65 and 80 passengers.

Skeptics have questioned Boom’s ambitious schedule, especially given the years it has taken Boeingan established manufacturer, in getting the planes or even adaptations of them approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.

In particular, Boom does not yet have a motor manufacturer. He is talking to Rolls Royce and others.

American Airlines reported that it has agreed to purchase up to 20 supersonic aircraft that are still in the design phase and that are years away from flying (Boom Supersonic via AP)
American Airlines reported that it has agreed to purchase up to 20 supersonic aircraft that are still in the design phase and that are years away from flying (Boom Supersonic via AP)

“With a supersonic aircraft, you don’t design an aircraft, you design an engine first,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst at consultancy AeroDynamic Advisory. “This is nothing more than a collection of freehand drawings until that engine is produced.”

Boom claims the plane will fly entirely on sustainable aviation fuel, often made from plant-based material, which is currently scarce and very expensive.

Boom, which is based in Denver and plans to build the Overture in North Carolina, says the program will cost between 6.000 y 8.000 millions of dollars. The plane has a list price of $200 million.although other manufacturers often give airlines deep discounts.

Last month, Boom announced changes to the plane’s design to make it easier and less expensive to build and maintain. The most striking change was going from three engines, including a different type in the tail, to four identical delta-shaped underwing engines.

The market for four-engine aircraft is shrinking. The Boeing 747 is now used primarily for cargo transport, and Airbus has closed production of the A380 in 2021. The vast majority of passenger aircraft flying today have two engines.

Four-engine planes “are much worse from every point of view, from economics to emissions,” Aboulafia said. “No one wants more engines, the answer is fewer engines.”

File photo: The XB-1 demonstration aircraft that Boom Supersonic is using to test more than 50 years of technology improvements on its proposed aircraft (REUTERS/Alyson McClaran)
File photo: The XB-1 demonstration aircraft that Boom Supersonic is using to test more than 50 years of technology improvements on its proposed aircraft (REUTERS/Alyson McClaran)

American Airlines said the supersonic plane will change travel. “Going forward, supersonic travel will be an important part of our ability to deliver to our customers,” said Derek Kerr, the airline’s chief financial officer.

The union that represents American pilots questioned the timing of the airline investing in planes that, at best, won’t be available for several years. American has struggled this summer, canceling more than 9,300 flights since June 1 – more than double the cancellations of United, Delta or Southwest -, according to FlightAware.

“Investing in the current operation should be the sole objective of management,” said Dennis Tajer, a union spokesman. “If there is no change in the way management schedules this airline and its pilots, these will just be supersonic cancellations.”

(Por David Koenig – AP)

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