Where were you 14 years ago when Concorde took its final flight? Hopefully nowhere near the plane itself, which often exceeded a whopping 110 perceived noise decibels in its pomp. Yet while NIMBYs may have cheered its final departure, the time-poor transatlantic traveller still misses that three-hour London-to-New-York travel time.
In an age where we’re legitimately worried about hyper-intelligent robots taking our jobs, you’d have thought supersonic flights would have been a piece of cake, but the forces that grounded Concorde are there.
Back in the day, Concorde was dogged by huge overheads, notoriously inefficient fuel consumption and, as a result, tickets that were really bloody expensive - a standard single fare would set you back £4,000 in 2003, or about £5,800 if adjusted for inflation.
The lesson still holds true: supersonic air travel needs to be affordable to the business class market and available as often as the market demands. It could do without being earth-shatteringly noisy too.
Enter Boom Supersonic, a start-up-cum-development project that hopes to make supersonic travel all of the above. Japan Airlines yesterday announced that it will invest $10m in the Denver based firm as well as ordering up to 20 aircraft. Boom had already raised about $41m in funding up to March 2017 from a bevvy of VCs and claimed in June to have a total order bill for 76 aircraft.
Suppliers include Honeywell and General Electric, and one of the big public backers of the project is none other than Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic, which has an option on the first ten models. Branson’s Virgin Galactic subsidiary the Spaceship Company is also involved in testing and manufacturing the jets.
The XB-1, Boom’s first model and the fastest civil aircraft ever made was unveiled late last year and is set for a subsonic test later this year according to the company (time’s running out guys...). ‘Sixty years after the dawn of the jet age, we're still flying at 1960s speeds,’ said Blake Scholl, CEO and founder of Boom. ‘Concorde's designers didn't have the technology for affordable supersonic travel, but now we do.’
Boom claims to have cracked the supersonic code, planning an initial list price of $200m per aircraft, with orders envisaged at 1,000 by 2035. The XB-1, ‘baby boom’ as it is nicknamed, will apparently be faster, quieter and more profitable than Concorde ever was. A 3.5 hour return flight to New York on the 55-seater is pitched at an ‘affordable’ $5000 - about 75% cheaper than the Anglo-French pioneer.
‘The Boom airliner will be a core part of the intercontinental airline fleet,’ said Mike Boyd, of manufacturer Boyd Group International. ‘Travelers are hungry for faster flights and airlines will be excited for a differentiated and profitable option for their premium travelers.’
When Concorde launched in 1976, it was heavily subsidised by the French and British governments. The imperative wasn’t so much financial efficiency as the race with the Soviet Union to enter the supersonic age. With this kind of motivation no longer a factor, Scholl says he has business as his sole focus with Boom.
The partnership with Japan Airlines and the hefty financial backing the company has received show there’s some faith in the project’s commercial viability. Whether it will make it off the ground remains to be seen.
Image Credit: Boom Supersonic