It’s the news about Boom supersonics that av-geeks have been waiting for since… well 2003. Why 2003? I’ll explain in a moment.
The leap of faith by US airline United is exactly what aviation startup Boom Technology needed to show the market it was onto a winner with its next-generation supersonic jet.
October 2003 was the last time the world saw a supersonic commercial airliner take to the skies, as the final Corcorde jet landed for the last time and British Airways and Air France retired their remaining aircraft.
It was the end of an era. The romantic super wealthy supersonic jetliner had been fictionalised as the jet of the future. But high fuel costs, low passenger numbers, and a deadly crash in Paris (even though it wasn’t the fault of the aircraft) sealed its fate.
So the decision by one of the world’s biggest airlines to purchase Boom’s new Overture aircraft is huge. Not just because of the delivery, but because of who is buying it. Traditionally, US carriers stick to what they know. Most of the time its Boeing, and sometimes Airbus, but mostly just to keep Boeing on its competitive toes.
“Boom’s vision for the future of commercial aviation, combined with the industry’s most robust route network in the world, will give business and leisure travellers access to a stellar flight experience.”United CEO Scott Kirby
So for one of the old guard to place an order for 15 Overture jets is a really big deal. But is it a really good idea?
The Boom sales pitch
Before we tear the dream apart, let’s look at the promise from Boom and United.
Supersonic flight is when an aircraft travels faster than the speed of sound.
At an altitude of 60,000ft (18,300m), that means flying faster than 660mph (1,060km/h).
A typical passenger jet may cruise at about 560mph (900km/h) but the supersonic Boom Overture is expected to reach speeds of 1,122mph (1,805km/h) – also known as Mach 1.7.
That cuts the flying time over the Atlantic or Pacific literally in half. Something that helped Concorde become the aircraft of choice for busy businessmen.
There’s that great episode of Absolutely Fabulous, where Eddie and Patsie travel to New York and back in a day to buy a door handle, all thanks to the Concorde.
But for the rest of us, and those of us too young to take a keen interest in flash-fashion doorknobs, the Concorde was nothing more than a dream.
Denver-based supersonic developer Boom Technology is promising to bring back the era of supercharged flying.
Is the industry ready?
The flying public, sick of the ever tightening capacity of 737s or A320s probably love the idea of flying to their destinations faster, if it allows them to unpack their legs out of the vacuum seal and cut their journey times in half.
But as Boeing often reminds us, it’s airlines who buy passenger planes, not passengers. And with the price of oil reaching 100 dollars a barrel, efficiency, not speed, has been on the minds of aviation executives for the past 25 years.
It’s one thing to create the supersonic jet of the future, it’s another thing to make it work. Boom says the supersonic Overture will be able to fly on sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and be the first commercial plane to immediately reach net-zero carbon emissions.
Sounds great, except when you think of the logistics to make this happen. Not every aviation expert believes they can.
“Is there infrastructure in the pipeline and existing to ramp up the supply? if this plane takes off in 2029, that’s eight years away. Can we see the ramp up of sustainable aviation fuel and capacity to power this aircraft?” asks aviation journalist Joran Chong.
“I think there’s been a lot of advancements for stable aviation fuel plants in Europe and the US. The technology and science is coming up with more ways to produce sustainable aviation fuel. That’s the ambition, that’s the hope,” Jordan says.
The lesson from the A380
While Boeing was deciding whether to go for speed or efficiency before eventually deciding on the 787 Dreamliner, the US aircraft manufacturer was also in a semi culture war with Airbus over a simple question. Was the future of aviation about flying hub to hub, or flying point to point?
Airbus believed major airports were reaching capacity for available slots, and invested heavily in the double decker A380. Boeing believed future orders would more likely come from airlines wanting to fly more boutique routes for passengers, and opted for smaller aircraft. Airlines like Qantas who fly both the A380 and the 787 found it would be cheaper to put two 787s on the same route as an A380.
The A380 would suffer an untimely death for passengers. Not just because of COVID, but also because airlines just didn’t buy them, or fulfil the orders they thought they might need. While passengers loved the comfort and space of an A380, airlines found them tough to fill.
But might Boom have the opposite problem?
Speed v Space
While the Concorde looked stunningly stylish from the outside, the interior of the supersonic jet left a lot to be desired.
“It was a lot more like premium economy,” says Jordan Chong.
In order to fit as many people into the small aircraft as possible, the seats were far narrower than business travellers are used to today.
Which raises a key question for business travellers who might have to make a choice in 2029. Would you rather fly business class more comfortably, but on a longer journey? Or would you rather fly faster with no flat bed?
“The argument could be made that if you’re flying for only three to four hours, do you really need a lie flat seat given they are short distances? You’re paying for speed rather than comfort or amenity,” Jordan says.
Is there demand for supersonic travel?
Boom Technology seems to think so, but they need more than United to agree. After years of losses, it was only in Concorde’s final years that it began to make a profit for British Airways.
Today, wealthy travellers have many choices. From competitively priced Business Class and First Class fares, to the choice of their own private jets – a lot has changed since the Concorde left our skies.
Boom will begin tests flights of its Overture jets in 2026.
But for now, it’s still only a paper plane.
Third Australian airline enforces vaccine mandate
A third Australian airline has moved to mandate the COVID vaccine amongst staff
Rex Airlines on Monday confirmed the vaccine will be mandated to all of the airline’s frontline, customer facing staff.
Employees have until November 1, 2021 to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The mandate makes Rex the first Australian airline to achieve that goal, and would include company employees working at check-in and all pilots and cabin crew across its regional and domestic networks.
The airline reassures that passengers onboard Rex flights will be travelling in “the safest possible circumstances” as all crew will be vaccinated.
Rex confirmed it would offer the small number of unvaccinated frontline staff non customer facing roles wherever available, while unvaccinated office staff will be required to wear a mask while at work.
Rex is Australia’s largest independent regional and domestic airline operating a fleet of 60 Saab 340 and six Boeing 737-800NG aircraft to 62 destinations throughout all states in Australia.
China crackdown wipes billions off top companies
China’s regulatory crackdown has wiped hundreds of billions off the market capitalisations of some of its largest companies and put investors on alert over who may be next
China is cracking down on some of its largest companies with regulatory stings wiping hundreds of billions of dollars off their market value.
From technology, to education and property – it seems no sector is safe from Beijing’s far reaching tentacles.
Let’s take a closer look at who’s been affected so far.
First up is Alibaba.
China’s biggest e-commerce company was founded by this man, once China’s richest person – Jack Ma.
Ma made a speech back in October 2020 blasting the country’s regulatory system.
Those stinging comments are widely viewed as the trigger for what came next. Beijing abruptly suspended the record $37 billion stock market debut of Alibaba’s financial affiliate Ant Group.
Later, Chinese regulators fined the company $2.75 billion for abusing its market dominance. Alibaba’s U.S.-listed shares have shed more than $400 billion in value since Ma made that speech.
Next up is China’s largest gaming and social media company Tencent. It was fined for failing to report past deals to anti-trust regulators.
Tencent has also been affected by China’s latest efforts to combat gaming addiction among minors.
In August under-18-year-olds were banned from playing video games for more than three hours a week. The company has lost nearly $350 billion in market value since February.
The food delivery company – Meituan – became another target of an antitrust probe in April, after its founder and Chief Executive Wang Xing posted an ancient poem on social media.
Some perceived it as criticizing the government and President Xi Jinping. Meituan has lost more than $150 billion in value since February.
The company has also been accused of violating consumer rights and mistreating delivery drivers.
China’s largest provider of private educational services has seen its value tumble following a policy shift in Beijing.
In July, the Communist Party issued new rules barring for-profit tutoring on the school curriculum.
Since then, the market value of New Oriental Education and Technology Group’s U.S. listed shares has fallen by $7.4 billion.
Beijing wants to ease pressure on school children and reduce a cost burden on parents.
But analysts warn that the new rules threaten to decimate the country’s private education sector.
So what’s the motive behind Beijing’s regulatory crackdown?
President Xi Jinping has called for China to achieve “common prosperity.”
The campaign seeks to narrow the yawning wealth gap between the rich and the poor.”Common prosperity” as an idea is not new in China, but a sharp escalation in official rhetoric and a crackdown on excesses in industries has rattled investors in the world’s second-largest economy.
Afghan banks are running out of currency as cash squeeze tightens
Banks in Afghanistan are running out of money following the Taliban’s recent rule to government
Banking firms are now pleading with the Taliban to release more funds otherwise they’ll be forced to close their doors.
The Afghan cash squeeze threatens to upend the country’s already battered economy which has been largely dependent on hundreds of millions of dollars shipped by the United States to the central bank in Kabul which then makes its way to the Afghani people through banks.
The Taliban has been in charge of the nation for a month and many fear the cash squeeze will lead to inflation.
Bankers fear fewer dollars could inflate the cost of food or electricity and make it harder to afford imports, spelling further misery for Afghans.
Although the cash crunch has lasted weeks, the country’s banks have in recent days repeatedly underlined their concerns to the new government and central bank according to reports.
Since the fall of the Afghanistan government, banks have already pared back services and imposed weekly $200 payout limits amid a run on savings.
Reports claim that there has been constant long queues outside branches as people try to get hold of dollars.
The hobbling of the central bank, whose foreign reserves were frozen after the Taliban took charge, could also hamper efforts of the international community to support Afghans
Commercial banks have appealed to the central bank in recent days to free up the supply of U.S. currency, however they are pending to receive an answer to those requests.
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