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Supersonic flights – Are you ready? | Ticker Original

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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.

The final Concorde flight from British Airways in 2003
The final Concorde flight from British Airways in 2003

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.

Eddie and Patsy flying to New York on the Concorde
Eddie and Patsy flying to New York on 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.

A key challenge will be the logistics of sustainable fuel

Infrastructure burden

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.

Singapore Airlines A380s parked in a desert
Singapore Airlines A380s parked in a desert

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?

Boom promises to be carbon neutral
Boom promises to be carbon neutral

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.

The tiny Concorde cabin has been described as “premium economy”

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.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Andrew

    June 7, 2021 at 5:50 pm

    Very interesting Ahron

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Business

Jaguar Land Rover is developing a hydrogen-powered car

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Jaguar Land Rover will develop a new hydrogen-powered prototype of its iconic Defender SUV

The prototype program, known as Project Zeus, is part of JLR’s larger aim to only produce zero-tailpipe emissions vehicles by 2036.

Hydrogen only emits water making it ideal for larger vehicles with longer driving ranges, according to the car-maker.

It follows the company working towards cutting its tail-pipe emissions to zero by 2036.

The venture will be partly funded by the UK Government and will begin testing by the end of this year.

The UK plans to ban car sales that run entirely on combustion engines from 2030.

JLR has also made a commitment to have zero carbon emissions across its supply chain, products, and operations by 2039.

The automaker has also tapped AVL, Delta Motorsport, Marelli Automotive Systems, and the UK Battery Industrialization Center to help develop the prototype.

The testing program is designed to help engineers understand how a hydrogen powertrain can be developed that would meet the performance and capability (like towing and off-roading) standards that Land Rover customers expect.

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Emirates posts biggest loss in three decades

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Emirates has recorded its biggest yearly loss in three decades.

In a tweet the Emirates group announced it lost $6 billion USD for the 2020/2021 past year.

The airline blamed the worldwide travel restrictions as the main driver of the slump.

The group’s revenue was $9.7billion USD, a decline of 66 percent over last years results.

Emirates revealed their current cash balance is now at $5.4 billion USD which is down 23 percent from last year mainly due to the weak demand in air travel caused by multiple pandemic-related lockdowns.

Emirates also confirmed in a statement that they did receive a capital injection of $3.1 billion USD from the Dubai Government who is the ultimate shareholder of the Middle Eastern Carrier.

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Business

Way of the future: The Flying Taxi

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Instead of booking an Uber to an airport how about a flying taxi to get to your flight on time?

Virgin Atlantic is the latest company to explore whether it could launch a flying taxi service.

The airline suggests electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles could fly between towns and major airports.

Several companies have promoted the idea of “flying taxis” that could pick passengers up from rooftops in city centres and take them to a variety of locations but Virgin Atlantic’s suggestion is slightly sleeker.

The proposed craft will carry four passengers and a pilot up to 100 miles as well as being emission-free and quieter than a traditional helicopter.

What is the idea?

Several companies have promoted the idea of autonomous “flying taxis” that could pick passengers up from rooftops in the city and then take them to the main transport hub such as an airport.

Virgin Atlantic’s suggestion is slightly tamer.

It has proposed that an eVTOL aircraft could pick people up from a city such as Cambridge and fly them to a major airport such as Heathrow Airport in London.

Vertical Aerospace says its VA-X4 craft will be able to carry four passengers and a pilot up to 100 miles, as well as being emissions-free and quieter than a helicopter.

The company claims it will be “near silent” when cruising.

It has already partnered with American Airlines to bring out these new taxi’s as well as Avolon, an aircraft-leasing company.

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