United plans to buy 15 supersonic planes

June 7, 2021

United Airlines has announced that, by 2029, it hopes to bring back supersonic travel—which vanished into thin air along with the Concorde, a British-French turbojet-powered supersonic passenger-carrying commercial airline that operated from 1976 through 2003.

The Concorde fleet was retired because of high costs and concerns about the noise that the planes generated.

Parent  company United Airlines Holdings  said on June 3 that it intended to acquire small jetliners being developed by Boom Technology, which will not only cut travel times, but bring in higher ticket prices, The Wall Street Journal reports.

United said it would buy 15 of Boom’s planned Overture jets, provided that the planes meets safety, operational, and sustainability standards. Boom hopes to fly a scaled-down prototype later this year or early in 2022, with the full-size, 88-seat version targeted to carry passengers by 2029.

Denver-based Boom was launched in 2014 and has raised $270 million from investors.In 2017, Japan Airlines  invested $10 million in Boom and signed nonbinding options to purchase 20 planes.

Boom said its Overture jet would be capable of flying at Mach 1.7—or 1.7 times the speed of sound. That could allow the planned jet to reduce the flight time between London and United’s hub in Newark, New Jersey, to 3½ hours from over six hours—and cut the journey from San Francisco to Tokyo to six hours from over 10 hours.

Some industry observers are skeptical about the supersonic market. Richard Aboulafia, an aviation consultant at the Teal Group, recently told the Journal that there are only a handful of routes with enough traffic to support enough full-fare premium passengers, and not enough to justify the development and production of a supersonic jetliner.

Boeing decided continued investment in supersonic air travel didn’t make sense for its business, Chief Executive David Calhoun said Thursday. “It’s got to really stand on its own, and our decision on supersonic was that––it didn’t,” Calhoun said at an analyst conference Thursday. “We didn’t believe in it quite as much as we thought we could.”

Still, Calhoun said United would be on the leading edge if the technology can be developed in a reasonable time frame.

Mike Leskinen, United’s head of Investor Relations, said the airline believes there will be ample appetite for supersonic trips from business travelers concentrated in United’s coastal hubs “Demand is not the issue here,” he said.

Leskinen said he is confident Boom will be able to raise the additional funds it will need to develop and certify its supersonic jet. “We spent a lot of time picking the right partner,” he said.

Research contact: @WSJ

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