Supersonic travel is booming, and we're all in for the ride
Faster-than-sound planes will be financially viable and affordable in our lifetime
A 2,000-strong fleet of supersonic jets serving hundreds of destinations around the world in a matter of hours is an achievable goal, according to the mastermind behind one project attempting to revive the Concorde era.
Blake Scholl, founder and CEO of Boom Supersonic, says his company will be able to make supersonic air travel financially viable and affordable to the public, with one-way fares from London to New York from R35,000, about the same as a business class ticket today. Boom Supersonic is one of a handful of firms attempting to revive the commercial prospects of planes that can travel faster than the speed of sound, something not seen since the demise of the Concorde in 2003.
The Denver-based operation has developed prototypes of a 55-seater jet that will have a cruising speed of 2,335kmph, 160km faster than the Concorde, and hopes to begin passenger flights by 2025.
“We are focused on accelerating long transoceanic trips. We want to get the economy of the plane down so that anybody who flies can fly fast,” Scholl, who used to work at Amazon, said at the Farnborough Airshow. “This is not a private jet for the ultra-wealthy.”
He projected having as many as 2,000 aircraft visiting 500 destinations around the world.
For context, there is an estimated 23,600 aircraft in service around the world today, but only two models number greater than 2,000: the Boeing 737, flown by Ryanair, and the Airbus A320, a stalwart of the EasyJet fleet.
Virgin Atlantic, Japan Airlines and two as-yet unnamed carriers have already expressed interest in acquiring Boom’s first planes.
In addition to the economy of running supersonic planes, manufacturers and airlines face the challenges of passing environmental regulations, in terms of fuel consumption and noise limits. Supersonic jets create a loud “boom” when they break through the sound barrier, which has been known to shake structures on the ground. The impact on residential areas means that supersonic planes might only be able to fly faster than Mach one – the speed of sound – above the world’s oceans.
“Supersonic jets don’t need to be louder than other jets; Concorde was 1960s technology,” said Scholl. “Concorde was a gas guzzler. Since then there has been huge progress in engine design and materials.”
He said that the planes would not be an environmental step backwards, comparing the fuel burn per passenger to the business class of today.
Boom is confident its planes can be in the air ahead of its rivals. Test flights in California could take place as early as the end of the year, while it has already been involved in more than 1,000 wind tunnel tests.
In 2016, Sir Richard Branson said he was excited to back the Boom project.
“I have long been passionate about aerospace innovation and the development of high-speed commercial flights,” he said.
At the same time, Scholl said supersonic air travel would no longer be a “bucket-list purchase” and that “step by step it will become available for everyone”.
Scholl earlier this year said that a round trip across the Atlantic might cost $5,000 (R66,000), “still expensive relative to economy – but if you can afford to fly premium you can afford to get there in half the time”.
Boom’s rivals include Spike Aerospace, Nasa in conjunction with Lockheed Martin and Airbus working with Aerion Corporation.
Last month Boeing, Airbus’s American rival, unveiled a rendering of its vision of the future in the form of a “hypersonic” plane, capable of flying at Mach 5 or above (a speed of around 6,276km/h) – a considerable upgrade on Concorde, which had a maximum capability of Mach 2.04 (nudging 2,179km/h at full throttle).
The Chicago-based aviation giant used the platform of the prestigious annual American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) conference in Atlanta, Georgia, to unveil an image of what it has described as the “first passenger-carrying hypersonic vehicle concept”.
Should such an aircraft be designed to Mach 5 specifications, it would be able to zoom between London and New York in just an hour (rather than the current standard seven).
– © The Daily Telegraph