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United Airlines wants to bring back supersonic air travel

The airline, which plans to buy planes from Boom Supersonic, a start-up, could become the first to offer ultrafast commercial flights since the Concorde stopped flying in 2003.

Boom Supersonic plane
A rendering provided by Boom Supersonic shows Boom Supersonic’s plane. United Airlines said Thursday, June 3, 2021, that it had committed to buying 15 planes from the company. Boom Supersonic via The New York Times


The era of supersonic commercial flights came to an end when the Concorde completed its last trip between New York and London in 2003, but the allure of ultrafast air travel never quite died out.

On Thursday, United Airlines said it was ordering 15 jets that can travel faster than the speed of sound from Boom Supersonic, a startup in Denver. The airline said it had an option to increase its order by up to 35 planes.

Boom, which has raised $270 million from venture capital firms and other investors, said it planned to introduce aircraft in 2025 and start flight tests in 2026. It expects the plane, which it calls the Overture, to carry passengers before the end of the decade.

But the startup’s plans have already slipped at least once, and it will have to overcome many obstacles, including securing approval from the Federal Aviation Administration and regulators in other countries.

United and Boom would not disclose financial details, including the cost of each plane, but Michael Leskinen, who heads corporate development at United, said the economics should be about the same as a new Boeing 787, a widebody plane that airlines typically use on international routes.

Boom also plans to make planes for Japan Airlines, an investor in the company.

What is not clear is whether Boom has solved the problems that forced British Airways and Air France to stop using the Concorde on trans-Atlantic flights — high costs, safety concerns and flagging demand.

Boom, which is working with Rolls-Royce, the British jet engine maker, said its plane would be more efficient than the Concorde; United estimates it will be 75% more efficient. Boom’s planes will not be as noisy as the Concorde because their engines will create a sonic boom only when flying over water “when there’s no one to hear it,” said Boom’s chief executive, Blake Scholl, who previously worked at Amazon and Groupon.

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Scholl said the engines on Boom’s planes would rely entirely on sustainable aviation fuel, which can be made from waste, plants and other organic matter. Experts say such fuel could reduce emissions, but its supply is limited, it is expensive and its use does not eliminate greenhouse gas emissions.

United said the flights would run out of its hubs in Newark, New Jersey, and San Francisco to start.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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