Maybe, but I won't believe it until it happens:
United Airlines has announced it will purchase up to 50 Boom Overture supersonic jets for commercial use by 2029, heralding the return of supersonic passenger flights nearly 20 years after the Concorde was decommissioned.
Supersonic planes halve the time it takes to fly from New York to London, from seven hours down to 3.5 hours, but such airliners were abandoned following Concorde's final flight in 2003. Concorde had become financially unworkable after a high-profile crash in 2000, combined with excessive ticket prices, high fuel consumption, and increasingly high maintenance costs.
If Boom's supersonic aircraft (pictured above) is to succeed, it will depend on overcoming these issues that derailed Concorde. So can it be done?
While it is intriguing to see a major airline like United give support to the idea of supersonic flight through this purchase order, right now it amounts to little more than a publicity stunt. A lot has to happen between now and 2029 for these airplanes to begin carrying passengers. While Boom has built a prototype aircraft and expects to begin testing it this year, there's a lot of work yet to be done if this effort is to succeed where the Concorde failed.
The Concorde's demise was the result of a variety of factors; among them, the the noise it created (e.g. screaming afterburners and sonic booms), the vast amounts of fuel it burned, and (most importantly) its cost. While technology has advanced since the Concorde's time such that these factors might be mitigated, supersonic flight is still unlikely to be cheap:
Boom will be optimistic that it can overcome fuel efficiency challenges by the time its aircraft begins carrying fare-paying passengers in 2029. Those fares look set to be high, with Boom anticipating a £3,500 ($4,930) price tag per seat. In 1996, British Airways charged around £5,350 -- £8,800 in today's prices -- for round-trip tickets from New York to London.
This means that, like Concorde before it, the Boom Overture looks aimed at the luxury market -- beyond the reach of even business class passengers. It is likely to be frequented only by those who currently travel via private jet, who may be enticed by Boom's claims to be a sustainable aircraft manufacturer.
Therein lies the biggest obstacle for supersonic flight: the market for this type of service is extremely limited. Generally speaking, people don’t really want to pay that much just to save some time on their flight. This is especially true nowadays, considering all the amenities a private jet or luxury class seat currently provides - lie-flat seats, in-flight wifi - that make the "time" factor less onerous than it was in the Concorde's day.
In order for this service to be successful, Boom and United are not just going to have to overcome the technical challenges that doomed the original Concorde; they're also going to have to make the case to an extremely small and wealthy set of people that the time savings provided by these airplanes is worth it.
Ben at OMMAT is also intrigued, but also skeptical.