American Airlines has agreed to buy up to 20 supersonic jets and put down a non-refundable deposit on the planes that are still on the drawing board and years away from flying.
Neither American nor manufacturer Boom Supersonic would provide financial details Tuesday, including the size of American’s deposit.
American, which also received options for 40 more Boom Overture aircraft, becomes the second American customer for Boom following a similar announcement last year by United Airlines for 15 aircraft.
It’s been nearly 20 years since the last supersonic passenger flight by Concorde, the British-French airliner that failed to catch on because of the high cost – both to passengers and airlines.
Boom CEO Blake Scholl insists his company’s plane will be different when it debuts in 2029, with tickets costing about $4,000 to $5,000 to fly from New York to London in about three and a half hours.
“There are tens of millions of passengers every year who fly business class on routes where Overture will deliver a great deal of speed,” Scholl said in an interview, “and the airlines will be able to do that profitably.”
Boom says his plane will have a top speed of 1.7 times the speed of sound, or about 1,300 mph, and will carry between 65 and 80 passengers.
Skeptics have questioned Boom’s ambitious plan, especially in light of the many years it has taken Boeing, a well-known manufacturer, to get planes or even aircraft refurbishments approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Notably, Boom does not yet have an engine manufacturer lined up. It is talking to Rolls Royce and others.
“With a supersonic jet, you don’t design an airplane, you design an engine first,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst at consultancy AeroDynamic Advisory. “This is just a collection of freehand drawings until that engine happens.”
Boom says the plane will fly entirely on sustainable aviation fuel, often made from plant material, which is currently in short supply and very expensive.
Boom, which is based in Denver and plans to build Overture in North Carolina, says the program will cost between $6 billion and $8 billion. The plane is priced at $200 million, although other manufacturers regularly give airlines deep discounts.
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 market for four-engine aircraft is shrinking. The Boeing 747 is mainly used for cargo transport now and Airbus stopped production of the A380 in 2021. The vast majority of passenger jets flying today have two engines.
Four-engine planes “are much worse from every point of view, from economy to emissions,” Abulafia said. “No one wants more engines, the answer is fewer engines.”
American Airlines said the supersonic jet will change travel.
“Looking forward, supersonic travel will be an important part of our ability to deliver to our customers,” said Derek Kerr, the airline’s chief financial officer.
The union representing American pilots questioned the timing of the airline’s investment in planes that won’t be available for several years at best. American has struggled this summer, canceling more than 9,300 flights since June 1 — more than double the 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.”
David Koenig reports for the Associated Press.