A major US airline made a multi-million dollar bet on the return of luxury and business travel on Thursday, signing an agreement for a fleet of supersonic aircraft 18 years after the Concorde aircraft was discontinued.
United Airlines announced the purchase of 15 aircraft from Denver-based Boom Supersonic, with the option to purchase an additional 35 aircraft.
The deal comes as airlines, which saw passenger numbers plummet amid the pandemic, have seen a recent resurgence, with airport security checks reaching their highest numbers in more than a year.
While other airlines have pre-ordered supersonic jets, United is the first to place an order with an initial financial commitmentsaid Boom CEO Blake Scholl. Under the terms of the agreement, United said it will make the purchase when the company’s Overture aircraft meets the airline’s safety and sustainability requirements.
United did not disclose financial terms, but Boom officials said the Overture plane is priced at $ 200 million, which would make the deal worth $ 3 billion..
“This is a historic moment,” said Scholl. “This is the first true order for supersonic aircraft since the 1970s. Supersonic is back in a big way. “.
After 27 years of operation, the last commercial supersonic jet, the Concorde, stopped flying in 2003. Although luxurious, in the end British Airways and Air France cited high costs and low demand for its demise.
The average ticket price was about $ 12,000 when the plane was discontinued. A fatal accident in 2000 on the outskirts of Paris that killed 113 people and new safety concerns after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were also factors..
The promise of faster travel, particularly on a supersonic jet, has long held an appeal in the industry, even as making it affordable and eco-friendly has proven elusive.
The Overture aircraft would be capable of flying at a mach speed of 1.7, roughly twice the speed of today’s fastest commercial airliners.
That would mean a flight between New York and London would take three and a half hours instead of the current six and a half hours, the company said. The planes would offer all business class seats for 65 to 88 passengers, with service beginning in 2029, Scholl said.
While it will be up to the airlines to set ticket prices, Scholl said he anticipates fares close to $ 2,500. Also the planes are expected to run on sustainable jet fuel, making them “zero carbon from day one”, according to the United announcement.
United said it is considering possible routes that include Newark to London, or San Francisco to Tokyo, that could be done in six hours compared to the current flight time of more than 10 hours.
Peter McNally, global industry leader for industrial materials and energy at investment research firm Third Bridge Group, said United’s deal is not his “first investment in futuristic travel” of the pandemic.
In February, The airline announced an agreement with Archer to develop electric vertical takeoffs and landings, which are short-haul, battery-powered aircraft that would operate in urban areas.
McNally said the Boom Supersonic deal could allow United to attract a large number of business travelers. According to an analysis by Third Bridge, 70 percent of business travelers say they would pay a premium to fly supersonic in business class, He said.
United CEO Scott Kirby said in a statement that the airline “continues on its journey to build a more innovative and sustainable airline, and current technological advancements make it more feasible to include supersonic aircraft.”
The agreement with United is a show of faith considering that Boom’s plane has not yet been built or approved by regulators, a process that could take years.
Last month, Aerion Supersonic, a Boom competitor, announced that it was ending operations, citing the difficult “current financial environment.” The Nevada-based company had released details of its AS3 supersonic aircraft proposal in March.
Scholl said Boom will begin test flights of a downsized version of the Overture, the XB-1, later this year or early 2022.
He said a lot has changed since the Concorde began test flights in the late 1960s.
“Fifty years later, we have advanced computer optimized aerodynamics. We have new lightweight materials. We have vastly improved engines that are quieter and more efficient, and most importantly, we also have sustainable aviation fuel.” Said Scholl.
“Put all this together and you can build a new generation of supersonic aircraft that is 75 percent less expensive to travel than the Concorde.”
One such aircraft, the Concorde 205, is on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington Dulles International Airport. It was donated to the museum by Air France.
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