Boom Says Commercial Supersonic Air Travel Will Be Viable Again In 2029

At a global tech conference that required many attendees to spend hours flying to show up in person, the CEO of an unlikely aviation startup pitched the prospect of supersonic commercial air travel.

“One thing has not changed in more than six decades, and that’s speed,” said Blake Scholl, CEO of Boom Supersonic(Opens in a new window). It was part of a talk he gave on Wednesday at the Collision conference(Opens in a new window) in Toronto recounting how a Boeing 787 of today has about the same top cruising speed as a Boeing 707 of 1962.

Years after the Aérospatiale / BAC Concorde supersonic transport finished its last Mach 2 transatlantic flight in 2003, Denver-based Boom aims to make supersonic travel both environmentally sustainable and economically viable with its Overture jet. That new aircraft, with 65 business-class seats, will fly at Mach 1.7 on 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), cutting New York-London flight times to 3.5 hours.

Scholl outlined an ambitious schedule for Overture: groundbreaking later this year for its Greensboro, NC, factory(Opens in a new window)construction of the first airframe beginning in 2024, a rollout of the first plane in 2025, test flights starting in 2026, and a commercial debut in 2029.

“We look forward to welcoming our first passengers seven years from now,” Scholl said.

If current plans stick, that jet will feature the blue-and-white livery of United Airlines, which last June announced an agreement to buy 15 Overtures “once Overture meets United’s demanding safety, operating and sustainability requirements,” plus options to buy 35 more . United CEO Scott Kirby made an appearance via video at Scholl’s talk to say that the airline remains “on track” for that purchase.

United has also invested in sustainable-fuel startups(Opens in a new window) that Boom is counting on to provide SAF at a lower cost and in greater quantities than available today.

Japan Airlines also placed options to buy 20 Overture jets(Opens in a new window) back in 2017, while the US Air Force has provided two rounds of R&D funding(Opens in a new window) to explore such government variants as an executive-transport version of Overture.

United’s order alone represents a bigger vote of confidence than Concorde got, Scholl argued at a press conference after his talk. Air France and British Airways together bought 14 of the delta-winged SSTs, while such American carriers as Pan Am and TWA only placed options that they later canceled as Concorde’s development costs headed skywards.

Scholl acknowledged the difficulty of the task Boom has taken on – for one thing, its smaller-scale XB-1 prototype(Opens in a new window) will not start flight tests until later this year. But he said advances in technology such as computer-aided design and carbon-fiber airframe construction mean Overture will not follow Concorde’s script.

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Scholl’s talk revealed such Overture details as a seat design that includes “a cup holder nowhere close to where my laptop would go,” but he did not get into a key aspect of Overture’s design: the three engines that will power the plane.

At the press conference, however, Scholl said that Boom’s engine efforts have advanced beyond a 2020 deal with Rolls-Royce(Opens in a new window) to either adapt an existing Rolls-Royce engine or design a new powerplant – which would be a much more difficult proposition. “We’ve worked with Rolls Royce and others behind the scenes,” Scholl said. “We have multiple design options for Overture that will work.”

When the company can announce that choice, this project should look a little closer to becoming a commercial reality.

Disclosure: Rob Pegoraro is moderating two panels at Collision, with the organizers covering his airfare and lodging in return.

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