United is buying the supersonic jet from Boom Supersonic, a privately held upstart aircraft maker based in Denver. The plane, dubbed the “Overture,” is slated to be completed by 2025, start test flights by 2026 and carry passengers by 2029. United has agreed to buy 15 of the jets, with options for 35 more.
The plane is slated to fly at Mach 1.7, or roughly twice as fast as today’s commercial jets. It will be able to fly from United’s hub in Newark, New Jersey, to London in just three-and-a-half hours. It could make the Newark to Frankfurt trip in four hours and San Francisco to Tokyo in just six hours.
Another lofty, but unproven, goal for Boom’s Overture: It plans to fly on 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), which would allow it to be the first aircraft to begin with net-zero carbon flights.
“United continues on its trajectory to build a more innovative, sustainable airline and today’s advancements in technology are making it more viable for that to include supersonic planes,” said United CEO Scott Kirby.
But experts expressed doubts that there will ever be a way for commercial supersonic flights to make economic sense for airlines
“You need to find enough full-fare premium passengers to justify the aircraft. Good luck with that,” said Richard Aboulafia, aerospace analyst with the Teal Group.
“This is the best form of free advertising,” said Aboulafia. “It likely doesn’t cost anything. It’s gets them free publicity as a forward looking airline with, bizarrely, a concern about the environment.”
After the economic failure of the Concorde, both airlines and aircraft makers have generally concentrated on greater efficiency, not speed.
One of the leaders in that field, Aerion Supersonic, announced last month that it would shut down because of the difficult economics of making a supersonic business jet. Aboulafia thinks that that the case for developing a supersonic commercial jet is far more difficult than the case for a supersonic business jet.
“If Aerion can’t do it with a promising business case, who the hell can?” he said.