Can Supersonic Planes Save Commercial Airlines?

Monday, 11 December 2017 - 10:44AM
Monday, 11 December 2017 - 10:44AM
Can Supersonic Planes Save Commercial Airlines?
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Image credit: Boom
This might be the understatement of the century: Commercial air flight has room for improvement. 

This probably isn't a surprise to anyone who's ever had to fly Economy Class, but it's worth pointing out—if it weren't for some hard-baked in negative trends that airlines are unwilling to give up, everyone would be more comfortable while traveling through the air.

As it is, planes are (relatively) slow and expensive, with rising fuel levies forcing more and more airlines to make cost-cutting measures, cramming even more passengers onto each flight for the sake of trying to squeeze a few more bucks out of every journey.

Nobody likes this, and the effects on air travel as a whole are negative. Customers are being pushed away from flying, which is only making things worse, and it looks like the future will probably see more people embrace other forms of superfast transport, such as Hyperloops.

Meanwhile, some companies are hoping to make airships a superior alternative to planes thanks to their increased legroom and maneuverability in remote locations.

Not everything is doom and gloom for the future of commercial air flight, though. Recent months and years have seen an increase in interest and activity from many companies worldwide, who are working towards revitalizing an ancient lost flying artform: the supersonic jet.

Once upon a time, supersonic flights across the Atlantic ocean were commonplace, with Concorde planes taking passengers from the US to Europe in under four hours.

Various issues including cost and safety ultimately saw this era of superfast passenger flight come to an end in 2003, but a Denver-based company, Boom Supersonic, is looking to bring this technology back into regular use.

Supersonic technology has advanced a lot over the past 15 years. New planes will be up to 30 times quieter than old Concorde planes, reducing one of the big issues that affected comfort levels on-board.

What's going to be more interesting to passengers, though, is the expectation that fares will be 75 percent lower than supersonic flights of the '90s—and that's even taking into account new fuel taxes and levies.

Getting a plane to hurtle through the air at supersonic speeds has become a far cheaper endeavor, and airlines are hoping that this might help win back customers.

What's really special is the speeds that these new planes will achieve, traveling across both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in approximately half the time that current planes are capable of achieving. Boom's planes will be capable of making it all the way up to Mach 2.2, helping to connect different parts of the world, reducing travel time while also providing a much more cost-effective service than older supersonic commercial jets.

Early buzz from airlines suggests that there's a real interest in Boom Supersonic's crafts.

Japan Airlines (JAL) has announced that they've provided the company with a $10 million investment, and according to Boom's CEO Blake Scholl, several other airlines are also expected to bite once the planes become commercially available:

Opening quote
"We expect to do many deals with many airlines. Initially, our goal is to select at least one partner in every region of the world. We will continue to engage with other global carriers to maximize the value of JAL's investment and bring back supersonic commercial travel."
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Boom Supersonic isn't the only company working on this new technology.

NASA has previously made noise about a similar hypersonic jet that will benefit from an ultra-lightweight nanotube building material to achieve greater speeds.

It looks as if the future of air travel is going to be significantly different from what has come before. As planes get quicker, more comfortable, and cheaper, it's likely that the world will become even more interconnected.

That is, assuming that it's not just easier and quicker to blast into space and back down to Earth on a space plane instead—in which case, commercial travel will change even more drastically.
Can Supersonic Planes Save Commercial Airlines?