Would you Fly a Supersonic Plane If Available?


By Robert McGarvey


Start-up Boom now is saying that by 2023 it will have in service a supersonic airplane that is faster than the Concorde and will cut our over the ocean flight times in half.  Of course there are skeptics Boom will do anything but go bust but put that aside for now.  Just feast on the idea of getting to Europe, or China, in half the time of today’s flights.

The fundamental question is: will you want to fly it?  Note that Boom will involve carriers you know – Virgin has publicly signed on.  Boom has said there are four others but has not named them.

The bigger question is: can you persuade employers or clients to pay the bill which, supposedly, will be about the same as trans Atlantic business class fares? That’s about $5000 for the New York – London roundtrip.  

If you already fly business class, there’s no reason not to at least consider SST transport.  If you don’t fly business, can you sell your employer on the idea that cutting flight times in half will make you more efficient and effective on the ground?

Just maybe it in fact will deliver precisely those benefits.

Why fly SST? Speed.  Boom will fly at Mach 2.2, about 1451 mph, a notch quicker than the retired Concorde which flew at 1350.

On Boom, New York – London is 3 hours, 15 minutes.  San Francisco-Tokyo is 5.5 hours.  Los Angeles – Sydney is 6 hours, 45 minutes.

Present flight time Los Angeles – Sydney is 14 hours, 55 minutes, more than twice as long.

Flight time on a conventional plane San Francisco – Tokyo is 11 hours, 5 minutes.

So Boom is promising to cut flight times in half.

Even so, the Concorde failed – so why will Boom succeed? Blake Scholl, Boom co-founder, told Skift that his plane will be about 75% more efficient to operate than the Corcorde. He claimed better fuel economy, also higher rates of utilization.

Scholl claimed there are around 500 routes with enough traffic to support SST flights.

The math, he insisted, supports the belief that SST can profitably fly.

There are no reasons to believe that the FAA will permit over land SST flights in the US.

But there are plenty of over water routes that, in a global economy, we are all flying more often.

Another hitch is that the plane has a range of around 4500 miles, meaning it has to stop to refuel on long flights.  On a San Francisco to Shanghai route it would stop in Anchorage for fuel and, said Scholl, refueling stops will be quick, really a matter of a few minutes, so the ding on time is less than you might fear.

Air miles JFK to Paris is around 3650.  JFK to Berlin Tegel is 3961, which is probably about the maximum route that can be made without refueling.  LAX to Maui is around 2500 miles.

Scholl spelled out the choice we will face: “Your choice will be: Do you want to spend 16 hours in a flatbed seat or do you want to speed six or seven hours and truly go to sleep and wake up in the other city?”

Sign me up for the SST.  I really like that math. I’ll find a way to convince clients to foot the bill.

Naturally, I’m skeptical that comparative airplane newbies can pull off Boom and its innovative SST – but who saw Tesla, a Silicon Valley car maker, shaking up Detroit and Munich and Tokyo?  Just maybe what the airline industry needs is a disruptor from outside.

And the retirement of the Concorde in 2003 is not a predictor of how SST will fare.  For one thing, the plane was dated, 30 year-old technology when it was killed off.  Concorde’s reputation also took a serious hit in 2000 when all 109 passengers and crew on board died when the plane burst a tire on takeoff which apparently caused the fuel tank to explode.  A lot of business fled the Concorde in the aftermath.

Think too of how many executives now are flying private planes.  In the age of the 1% could many of them be lured to fly faster SST planes?  Probably.  

I’m not saying I am optimistic about Boom’s prospects – it is hoeing a very tough row where lots of entrenched interests much like the non SST status quo – but I certainly can cheer the company on and that is what I will do.


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