This is a fake rendering of a plane that doesn't exist. Credit: Boom Supersonic
Boom Supersonic, a startup attempting to revive the supersonic passenger jet industry, announced an agreement with United Airlines that, if all goes according to plan, will result in the airline purchasing 15 of its jets at some point later this decade. United hopes to carry passengers by 2029. The news has sparked much fanfare in the business press and among supersonic jet enthusiasts who continue to lament the demise of the Concorde almost 20 years ago.
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But, virtually everything about this announcement is theoretical. United and Boom merely have a "purchase agreement" pending Boom Supersonic passing many safety and regulatory hurdles that currently preclude supersonic travel. Clearing those hurdles would first require Boom Supersonic to fly planes, which it currently does not. In fact, it doesn't even have a full-scale model. It only has a one-third scale model, the XB-1, which it hopes to start testing this year. Boom has raised $240 million in venture capital funding to date, according to Crunchbase, and this announcement and the accompanying fawning press coverage will surely help it raise further capital in the expensive and time-consuming effort of designing supersonic planes from scratch, not to mention testing and then manufacturing them. The exact reasons the Concorde program was discontinued remain debated to this day. But it was some combination of reduced passenger numbers following a 2000 crash that killed 117 people, high operations and maintenance costs, and a lack of incremental technological improvement that left the planes outdated. A transatlantic flight cost thousands of dollars, but because of the aerodynamics required for the narrow jet, the cabin experience itself was more akin to those small regional jets you take for a connecting flight. Perhaps Boom Supersonic really will build a supersonic jet that has a travel experience worthy of the thousands upon thousands of dollars it will cost to fly it, reverse all the regulatory hurdles that led to the Concorde shutting down in the first place, and sell it to airlines within the next decade. If that is the case, it will usher in a form of travel reserved for those who can afford all-First Class cabin travel, further segregating the way humans move about the planet by class and wealth. But let's see if Boom Supersonic can fly a plane first before asking questions like that, or if anyone will even want to fly in a plane that has "BOOM" written on the side of it.