United Airlines has announced plans to “return supersonic speeds to aviation” by the year 2029.
The airline has declared its intentions to buy 15 new “Overture” supersonic airliners, which are to be designed by the Denver-based company Boom. They are to be run on Saf, a sustainable fuel.
Supersonic flight is when an aircraft travels faster than the speed of sound, which is 660mph (1,060km/h). This speed is fast enough to cut journey times on transatlantic routes such as London to New York by half. The Overture will be able to make this trip in about 3.5 hours.
A typical passenger jet cruises at an altitude of 60,000ft (18,300m) at around 560mph (900km/h). Whilst the Overture is expected to reach speeds of up to 1,122mph (1,805km/h) – also known as Mach 1.7.
Travelling faster than the speed of sound causes a sonic boom, which is often heard on the ground and bears resemblance to a loud thunderclap or an explosion. This boom limits where the planes fly over, so they travel at lower speeds over land until they reach the ocean, away from citizens who may be disturbed by the loud bang. The noise is where the company Boom got its name.
Boom hopes that the Overture will not be any louder than other modern passenger aircrafts while taking off, flying over land, and landing. The company is making improvements to its aircraft design to reduce and alleviate the sonic boom.
Sustainability is a key factor in Boom’s plans for the airliners.
Blake Scholl, founder and CEO of Boom Supersonic, said of its sustainability: “The world’s first order of net-zero carbon supersonic aircraft marks a significant step toward our mission to create a more accessible world.”
“At speeds twice as fast, United passengers will experience all the advantages of life lived in person, from deeper, more productive business relationships to longer, more relaxing vacations to far-off destinations.”
The onboard experience of the Overture is designed to offer comfort, productivity, and privacy. It will feature in-seat entertainment screens, plenty of personal space for passengers, and contactless technology.
United Airlines’ CEO, Scott Kirby, said of the project: “United continues on its trajectory to build a more innovative, sustainable airline and today’s advancements in technology are making it more viable for that to include supersonic planes.”
“Boom’s vision for the future of commercial aviation, combined with the industry’s most robust route network in the world, will give business and leisure travellers access to a stellar flight experience. Our mission has always been about connecting people and now working with Boom, we’ll be able to do that on an even greater scale.”
Previous supersonic passenger flights ended in 2003 when British Airways and Air France retired their Concorde airliners, a joint decision due to falling ticket sales after Flight 4590’s accident.
United Airlines and Boom are hopeful that the Overture aircraft will launch the start of a new era in supersonic travel.