American Airlines has placed a non-refundable deposit on 20 supersonic passenger jets that are still being designed and years away from flight.
It is unclear how long it will take for the planes to be built, let alone ready to take off with commercial passengers on board, as the planes – manufactured by Boom Supersonic – do not yet have an engine manufacturer. Boom said he expects the planes to be operational by 2029, which would mark the first time a private company has made a supersonic plane.
Experts suggest the timeline could be even longer, given that the plane the U.S. has agreed to buy exists only in computer-generated renderings and noting the lengthy process to gain federal approval.
But other competitors are also planning supersonic passenger jets. Spike Aerospace is developing an ultra-fast business jet and startupthat would travel five times the speed of sound.
“I would describe it as likely — I wouldn’t describe it as likely that these planes will be flying by then,” Craig Jenks, president of Airline/Aircraft Projects, an airline industry consultancy, told CBS MoneyWatch. “Everything about it is completely new. If you think about how long it takes to make airplanes that are much less new, then it would be logical to say that it would be later [than 2029].”
The amount of the American’s deposit was not disclosed. The new plane, called the Overture, is priced at $200 million, but manufacturers typically give airlines deep discounts.
The deal puts American, the largest US airline, in a position to have the world’s largest fleet of supersonic jets. The deal includes an option for the carrier to buy 40 additional planes, which would carry 65 to 80 passengers, Boom Supersonic said in a statement on Tuesday.
American believes that supersonic travel will play a key role for airlines.
“Looking forward, supersonic travel will be an important part of our ability to deliver to our customers,” Derek Kerr, American’s chief financial officer, said in a statement. “We’re excited about how Boom will shape the future of travel for both our company and our customers.”
Last year, United Airlines agreed to buy 15 of the same planes.
“A lot of people got burned the first time”
It’s been almost 20 years since the last supersonic passenger flight by Concorde, the British-French airliner that failed to catch on due to stratospheric costs and safety concerns.
“The idea that you can bring back supersonic is an exciting idea, but a lot of people were burned the first time, especially with the cost,” Jenks said. “There’s this fantastic cost inefficiency once you get over the sound barrier that you have to compensate by having quite high rates.”
Jenks noted that American’s investment suggests the company is positive about business travel recovering from pandemic lows.
“It is interesting that this order is being made at the same time when everyone is concerned about the return of business travel,” he said. “It goes against the whole idea that people aren’t going to fly for business in the same way or in the same volume. That’s a statement that says there’s always going to be demand for premium and a faster, more efficient way. to travel for business”.
Cost-prohibitive for most flyers
A ticket to fly from New York to London in about three and a half hours will cost between $4,000 and $5,000, about 30% more than it costs to fly the same route on a business class ticket today.
“In the 1960s, many airlines signed up to order these planes but never ended up flying them because of the cost,” travel analyst Henry Harteveldt told The Associated Press.
They are expected to be cost-prohibitive for most consumers this time around as well.
“The first version of this aircraft is not for the vast majority of us who sit in the back of the plane behind the curtain. But for high-level executives and business travelers, people for whom time is money, supersonic travel can be seen as very attractive”, he said.
Overture is expected to carry passengers at roughly twice the speed of today’s fastest commercial airliner.
“There are tens of millions of passengers every year who fly business class on routes where Overture will deliver tremendous speed,” Boom CEO Blake Scholl said in an interview. He also believes that airlines will be able to make a profit by selling tickets.
That is if they can get hold of the planes.
Engine manufacturer wanted
Boom is talking to Rolls Royce and others in its search for an engine manufacturer. Another ambition the company has, which may not be as fast as the planes themselves: to make the planes fly exclusively on sustainable aviation fuel, often made from plant material, which is expensive and in short supply .
“I’m really surprised that American decided to announce this given all the questions that exist about when an engine will become available for this airplane,” Harteveldt said. “It takes many years to design, test and develop a new engine need to make sure it’s safe.”
Sustainable aviation fuels are also in their infancy.
The bottom line: “This plane is not going to show up at an airport in the next few years. That’s a few years away, and it’s possible it could slip further,” he said.
Boom says the Overture program will cost between $6 billion and $8 billion.
Last month, Boom announced changes to the aircraft’s design to make it simpler and less expensive to build and maintain. The most striking change was the change from three engines, including another type in the tail, to four identical engines under the delta-shaped wings.
The union representing American pilots questioned the timing of the airline’s investment in planes that won’t be available for at least several years. American has struggled this summer, canceling more than 9,300 flights since June 1 — more than double the number of cancellations at United, Delta or Southwest, according to FlightAware.
“Investing in today’s operation should be management’s sole focus,” said Dennis Tajer, a union spokesman. “Unless there is a change in the way management plans this airline and its pilots, these will just be supersonic cancellations.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this report