American Airlines buys 20 supersonic planes from Boom Supersonic

American Airlines will buy up to 20 supersonic jets from aircraft manufacturer Boom Supersonic, the two companies announced on Tuesday, marking the second time in two years that a major American airliner has decided to buy such superfast jets.

Almost 20 years after the supersonic Concorde was last marketed, aircraft manufacturers and governments around the world are once again developing such planes, which can cut flight time between London and New York in half. Colorado-based Boom secured 130 orders, including options, company spokeswoman Aubrey Scanlan said. She declined to reveal the value of the US deal, which also gives the airline the option to purchase 40 additional Overture jets – a model with the touted ability to fly at up to 1.7 times the speed of sound ( approximately 2,092 kilometers per hour) which is being prepared for the market by 2029.

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

The Concorde, which had a top speed of just over Mach 2, last flew commercially in 2003. It was mainly operated by British Airways and Air France and had the capability to fly from London to New York in about three hours. The plane was a symbol of luxury, giving access to a super exclusive lounge and offering premium wine with Angus beef and lobster during flights. Britain’s Princess Margaret and former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were among its most famous passengers.

But it was forced to close 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 heading to New York from Paris killed 113 people and damaged the supersonic plane’s image as a safe travel option.

Questions remain about whether it is possible to build ultra-fast, safe, relatively quiet and environmentally friendly aircraft.

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

The automaker has collaborated with British industrial conglomerate Rolls-Royce – which co-developed Concorde’s engines – on an engine design for the Overture that Boom is evaluating, according to Scanlan, the spokeswoman. Boom says the Overtures will be lighter and more fuel efficient than the Concorde, while better software will allow the new jets to be more aerodynamic.

Reducing noise could remain a challenge because supersonic aircraft require narrow aero engines, which can be relatively noisy. The Concorde was largely limited to flying over water due to its noise, limiting the number of routes it could offer.

Another obstacle may be the cost of sustainable aviation fuel derived from organic matter. Scholl promised the Overture would fly exclusively on greener fuel, two to five times more expensive than fossil fuel. Supersonic jets can also burn seven to nine times more fuel than subsonic aircraft, The Washington Post reported.

See also: London to New York in 3.5 hours: United aims to bring back supersonic travel

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