American Airlines buys supersonic jets amid calls for ultra-fast travel

American Airlines buys supersonic jets amid calls for ultra-fast travel

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American Airlines will buy up to 20 supersonic jets from aircraft manufacturer Boom Supersonic, the two companies said Tuesday, marking the second time in two years that a major US jet has switched to buy such ultra-fast jets.

Nearly 20 years after the supersonic Concorde was last commercially available, aircraft manufacturers and governments around the world are once again developing such aircraft, which can cut the flight time between London and New York in half. Colorado based Boom has secured 130 orders, including options, said company spokeswoman Aubrey Scanlan. She declined to reveal the value of the US deal, which also gives the airline the option to purchase an additional 40 Overture aircraft — a model with the touted ability to fly at speeds up to 1.7 times the speed of sound. (about 1,300 miles per hour) to be marketed by 2029.

Boom founder and CEO Blake Scholl has said each Overture will sell for $200 million, although it’s not uncommon for airlines to pay below list price when buying multiple planes. Last year, United Airlines ordered 15 Overtures with an option to buy 35 more.

The Concorde, which had a maximum speed of just over Mach 2, It last made a commercial flight in 2003. Operated primarily by British Airways and Air France, it had the capacity to fly from London to New York in approximately three hours. The aircraft symbolized luxury, offered access to a super-exclusive lounge and offered high-quality wine with Angus beef and lobster during flights. Britain’s Princess Margaret and former United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were among the most famous passengers.

But it had to go out of business after years of unsustainable fuel costs, coupled with repeated complaints from people living near airports about the noise generated by supersonic jets.

The July 2000 crash of an Air France Concorde flight departing from Paris to New York killed 113 people and tarnished the image of supersonic aircraft as a safe travel option.

The Concorde may not change the way we fly, but it still can

There are lingering questions about whether it is possible to build ultra-fast, safe, relatively quiet and environmentally friendly aircraft.

“I don’t think you can ignore the obstacles that will be in the way of getting there,” aviation journalist Jon Ostrower told CBS News last month. He suggested Boom should invest at least $15 billion to develop a supersonic jet. At the time, Boom said in response it could build the Overture at about half the price tag Ostrower had indicated.

The manufacturer worked with British industrial conglomerate Rolls-Royce – which co-developed the engines for the Concorde – on an engine design for the Overture that Boom is now evaluating, said Scanlan, the spokeswoman. Boom says the Overtures will be lighter and more fuel efficient than the Concorde, while better software will make the new jets more aerodynamic.

Keeping noise down can remain a challenge because supersonic aircraft require narrow aerodynamic engines, which can be relatively loud. The Concorde was largely limited to flying over water because of its noise, which limited the number of routes it could offer.

Another barrier may be the cost of sustainable jet fuel, which is extracted from organic matter. Scholl has promised that the Overture will only fly on greener fuel, which is two to five times more expensive than fossil fuel. Supersonic jets can also burn seven to nine times more fuel than subsonic planes, The Washington Post reports.

Pranshu Verma contributed to this report

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