American Airlines has made a big bet on supersonic travel



American Airlines has returned deposits for 20 supersonic passenger jets that are still years away from flying.

It’s not clear how long it will take to build the planes, let alone be ready to take off with commercial passengers on board, as Bom’s supersonic planes don’t yet have an engine. Boom said he expects the planes to enter service by 2029, marking the first time a private company has built a supersonic plane.

Experts suggest that the timetable could be longer, given that the plane that American agreed to buy was available only through computerized negotiations and the lengthy process of winning federal clearance.

But other competitors are planning supersonic passenger jets. Spike Aerospace is developing the fastest commercial jet and launch. Hermes is making an airplane. It travels five times the speed of sound.

“I’ll be as specific as possible — I’m not going to state that these planes will fly until then,” Craig Jenks, president of Airline/Aircraft Projects, an airline industry consultancy, told CBS MoneyWatch. “Everything about it is new. It’s reasonable to say it will be after you consider how long it takes to build many new aircraft. [than 2029].”

A computer-generated rendition of the boom plane is called an overture.


The amount of the American deposit was not disclosed. The novel aircraft, called the Overture, has a list price of $200 million, but manufacturers are offering airlines significant discounts.

The deal will give America’s largest airline the largest fleet of jumbo jets in the world. The deal includes an option for the carrier to purchase an additional 40 aircraft that can carry between 65 and 80 passengers, Boom Supersonic said in an announcement on Tuesday.

American believes that supersonic travel will play a key role for airlines.

“Looking forward, supersonic travel will be a critical part of our ability to deliver to our customers,” said Derek Kerr, American’s chief financial officer, in a statement. “We are excited about how Boom will shape the future of travel for our company and our customers.”

Last year, United Airlines agreed to buy 15 of the same planes.

“A lot of people get burned for the first time.”

It’s been 20 years since the last supersonic passenger flight on Concorde, a British-French airline that failed to catch on because of stratospheric costs and safety concerns.

“The idea that you’re going to bring back a supersonic is a very interesting idea, but a lot of people were put off at first, especially by the price,” Jenks said. “Once you break the sound barrier, it’s got this incredible cost-inefficiency that you have to compensate for with sufficiently high tariffs.”

Jenks said the U.S. investment suggests the company is bullish about its business trajectory, bouncing back from the pandemic slump.

“It is surprising that this order was issued at the same time when everyone is worried about the return of business travel,” he said. “This goes against the general idea that people don’t fly the same way or the same volume for business. This is a statement that there will always be a premium demand and a faster and more efficient way to travel for business.”

For most flyers, the cost is prohibitive.

A ticket to fly from New York to London in three and a half hours would cost between $4,000 and $5,000, about 30% more than it would cost to fly the same route today in business class.

“In the 1960s, a lot of airlines signed up to order these planes, but they didn’t fly them because of the cost,” travel analyst Henry Hartvelt told The Associated Press.

At this time, it is expected to be cost-effective for most consumers.

“The first version of this plane is not for many of us who sit in the back of the plane behind the curtain. But for high-level executives and business travelers, people whose time is money, supersonic travel can be seen. Very attractive,” he said.

The Overture is expected to carry passengers at twice the speed of today’s fastest commercial airliners.

“Every year, tens of millions of passengers fly in business class on routes where Overture offers great speed,” Boom CEO Blake Scholl said in an interview. He also believes that airlines can make a profit by selling tickets.

If they can get their hands on the planes.

Engine builder wanted

Boom is in talks with Rolls-Royce and others in search of an engine manufacturer. Another of the company’s ambitions may not be as fast as its planes: to run the planes exclusively on sustainable aviation fuel, often plant-based, which is costly and in short supply.

“With all the questions about when the engine will be delivered to this aircraft, I’m very surprised that American decided to announce this,” Hartevelt said. “It takes years to design, test and manufacture a new engine to ensure it is safe.”

Sustainable aviation fuels are also in their infancy.

The bottom line: “This plane will not be seen at the airport in the next few years. This is many years, and it can slip further,” he said.

Boom said the Overture program would cost $6 billion to $8 billion.

Last month, Boom announced changes to the aircraft’s design to make construction and maintenance easier and less expensive. The most surprising change was the change from three engines, including a different type on the tail, to four identical engines under the delta-shaped wings.

The union that represents American pilots has questioned the timing of the airline’s investment in planes that won’t be around for at least several years. American has struggled this winter, canceling more than 9,300 flights since June 1 — more than double the number of cancellations by United, Delta or Southwest, according to FlightAware.

“Investing in today’s action should be management’s sole focus,” said union spokesman Dennis Tajer. “If there are no changes to how this airline and the pilots manage the program, these will be tremendous cancellations.”

— The Associated Press contributed to this report


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