United Airlines eyes supersonic travel through new deal with Boom
There are more than a few ifs, buts and maybes hanging over the development of Boom's Overture supersonic airliner, but if the company can jump through the necessary hoops United Airlines will be ready to grab a slice of the action. The carrier has inked a deal with the company to buy as many a 50 of the futuristic aircraft, which it says could begin commercial flights by the end of the decade.
As Boom's flagship model, Overture is designed to be the world's fastest civilian aircraft, with a capacity of up to 88 passengers and the ability to hit speeds of Mach 1.7 (1,300 mph or 2,100 km/h). This could mean trips between Los Angeles and Sydney in 8 hours 30 minutes, or Tokyo to Seattle in 4 hours and 30 minutes.
The company has built a one-third-scale demonstrator version of the Overture called the XB-1, which is designed to break the sound barrier and expected to fly sometime next year. The Overture plane itself won't be rolled out until 2025 at the earliest, but the small glimpses offered so far seem to be enough for United Airlines to want to hop on board.
Under the newly announced purchase agreement, the carrier will buy 15 of the Overture airliners, with an option to buy a further 35 should it meet a set of safety, operating and sustainability requirements. The two will work together to tick off these boxes, and will also need to find a way to navigate the murky waters of supersonic flight regulations over American soil.
Flights in excess of Mach 1 have been banned over US land since 1973 due to noise pollution generated by sonic booms, though the Federal Aviation Administration is currently considering new rules that could streamline the process of gaining exemptions. These might be granted on a case-by-case basis after analyzing the individual costs and benefits, but there are still thorny issues to resolve, including the carbon footprint of these types of flights.
All that extra speed doesn't come for free, with supersonic flight burning much more fuel than subsonic flights. Boom makes a point of labeling the Overture the world's most sustainable supersonic aircraft and, for what it's worth, says it will operate as a net-zero carbon plane from day one on 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel. Should it make the many necessary leaps, United Airlines says the supersonic planes will start carrying passengers in 2029.