50 years after Concorde, US start-up eyes supersonic future
by Roland JACKSON / Agence France-Presse
Luxury air travel faster than the speed of sound: A US start-up is aiming to revive commercial supersonic flight 50 years after the ill-fated Concorde first took to the skies.
Blake Scholl, the former Amazon staffer who co-founded Boom Supersonic, delivered the pledge this week in front of a fully-restored Concorde jet at the Brooklands aviation and motor museum in Weybridge, southwest of London.
The company aims to manufacture a prototype 55-seater business jet next year but its plans have been met with scepticism in some quarters.
“The story of Concorde is the story of a journey started but not completed — and we want to pick up on it,” Scholl said at an event that coincided with the nearby Farnborough Airshow.
“Today… the world is more linked than it’s ever been before and the need for improved human connection has never been greater.
“At Boom, we are inspired at what was accomplished half a century ago,” he added, speaking in front of a former British Airways Concorde.
Boom Supersonic’s early backers include Richard Branson and Japan Airlines, and other players are eyeing the same segment.
Speaking to AFP at Farnborough on Wednesday, Scholl indicated that the air tickets could be beyond the reach of some.
“What we’ve been able to do thanks to advances in aerodynamics and materials and engines is offer a high speed flight for the same price you pay in business class today,” he said.
He said this works out to around $5,000 (4,300 euros) round-trip across the Atlantic.
“Now I know that might sounds like a lot, because it is, but it’s actually the same price you pay for a lay flat bed on airlines today,” he said.
– ‘Baby Boom’ –
Boom Supersonic’s aircraft, dubbed Baby Boom, is expected by the company to fly for the first time next year.
The company is making its debut at Farnborough and hopes to produce its new-generation jets in the mid-2020s or later, with the aim of slashing journey times by half.
The proposed aircraft has a maximum flying range of 8,334 kilometres (5,167 miles) at a speed of Mach 2.2 or 2,335 kilometres per hour.
If it takes off, it would be the first supersonic passenger aircraft since Concorde took its final flight in 2003.
The Concorde was retired following an accident in 2000 in which a Concorde crashed shortly after takeoff from Paris, killing 113 people.
“The one accident that did happen on Concord actually happened on the runway,” Scholl told AFP on Wednesday.
“It had nothing to do with high-speed flight so there’s no actual barrier to creating a highly safe, efficient supersonic airplane and we have super high standards for safety.
“We’ll be going through the same safety testing process that every other aircraft goes through and the FAA (US Federal Aviation Administration) and EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) will not let our airplane fly unless we pass a very high safety bar.”
Some analysts meanwhile remain sceptical over the push back into supersonic, with consumer demand booming for cheap low-cost carriers.
“Supersonic is not what passengers or airlines want right now,” said Strategic Aero analyst Saj Ahmad.
Ahmad said supersonic jets were “very unattractive” because of high start-up development costs, considerations about noise pollution and high prices as well as limited capacity.
– ‘Untried and untested’ –
Independent air transport consultant John Strickland noted supersonic travel was unproven commercially.
“If there is an economic downturn or something happens where the market for business class traffic drains away, then you have nothing else left to do with that aircraft,” Strickland said.
“I think it’s going to be some time before we see whether it can establish a large viable market… in the way that Concorde never managed to do.”
These concerns have not stopped interest from other players.
US aerospace giant Boeing had last month unveiled its “hypersonic” airliner concept, which it hopes will fly at Mach 5 — or five times the speed of sound — when it arrives on the scene in 20 to 30 years.
And in April, NASA inked a deal for US giant Lockheed Martin to develop a supersonic “X-plane”. (AFP)