If you’ve been flying for a long time, that headline might feel like déjà vu.
Concorde supersonic jets were in commercial use between 1978 and 2003. British Airways and Air France operated 14 of these unique craft — mainly on their transatlantic routes. Concorde jets were capable of cruising at 1,354 miles per hour, more than twice the speed of sound.
Unfortunately the cost of the program, initially estimated at £70 million, soon ran into the billions. This ensured that ticket prices for the Concorde would never be affordable for ordinary people. In 1997, a supersonic round-trip from London to New York and back cost passengers $8,000 a seat. Compared to conventional airliners, it took about half the time to make the trip — but at too high a price.
The Concorde was finally retired in 2003, a casualty of moribund tourism markets in the wake of 9/11.
But now there are plans to bring back supersonic air travel, not just for the super-rich, but for everyone. And not just for transatlantic flights, but all over the world.
Blake Scholl, CEO of the Denver-based Boom Supersonic, has a plan to connect hundreds of top destinations with a fleet of 2,000 planes even faster than the Concorde. Best of all, he claims he can make buying tickets at least conceivable for ordinary travelers.
Scholl claims his jets will carry passengers from London to New York in less than four hours at a cost of £2,000 — about the price of a business class ticket on a regular flight.
“We are focused on accelerating long transoceanic trips. We we want to get the economy of the plane down so that anybody who flies can fly fast,” he told the Independent. “This is not a private jet for the ultra-wealthy.”
Scholl’s XB-1 prototype is slated to seat just 55. It will be powered by three turbo engines, enabling it to reach a cruising speed of 1,451 miles per hour. The XB-1 has undergone more than 1,000 wind tunnel tests, but it has yet to prove itself at California’s Mojave Air & Space Port. It’s slated for live testing next year, and Scholl predicts it will carry its first paying passengers in 2025.
Virgin and Japan Airlines have already agreed to partner, and Scholl claims he has several other leads. But he obviously has a long way to go if he wants to reach his goal of connecting more than 500 cities around the world with his supersonic jets.
He also has to contend with skeptics who point out the environmental concerns of supersonic travel. Concorde was massively fuel inefficient, and the sonic ‘boom’ it emitted when it broke the sound barrier was so powerful that it could only do so over the ocean for fear of damaging buildings on the ground.
Scholl hand-waves these concerns away. (“There has been huge progress in engine design and materials.” “Supersonic jets don’t need to be louder than other jets; Concorde was 1960s technology.”)
But he can’t hand-wave the competition.
Boom Supersonic isn’t the only aerospace company looking to resurrect the dream of Concorde. NASA, Lockheed Martin, Airbus, and others are all jumping into the fray. And Boeing recently unveiled plans for a ‘hypersonic’ jet capable of attaining speeds of 3,900 miles per hour — five times the speed of sound.
Given the wealth of innovative ideas on the table, it seems super- (or hyper-) sonic flight is in our future. The questions of what form it will take, what it will cost, and whether it will be good for the environment remain, for the time being, unanswered.