Supersonic Travel Is Coming Back at United Airlines

The announcement brought back memories of Concorde planes, which last flew in 2003.

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Is United Bringing Back Supersonic Travel?
Image via Screenshot, United Twitter account

Claim

United Airlines will begin supersonic passenger flights.

Origin

The last supersonic passenger flight took place in 2003. It was a Concorde airplane operated by British Airways, taking off at John F. Kennedy airport in New York and landing at London Heathrow.

But on June 3, 2021, United Airlines announced it purchased 15 Overtures, supersonic planes built by Denver-based Boom Supersonic, with the option to buy 35 more. That means not only that supersonic travel will likely return in the near future, it will be operated by an American carrier for the first time.

According to Boom Supersonic, the planes are expected to be rolled out in 2025 and passenger-ready in 2029. Unlike its fuel-guzzling Concorde predecessor, Overture aircraft are being advertised as environmentally sustainable, flying 100% on sustainable aviation fuels.

“United and Boom share a common purpose — to unite the world safely and sustainably,” Boom Supersonic founder and CEO Blake Scholl said in a joint news release. “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.”

Boom Supersonic’s vision, as laid out in a promotional video, is a grand one — cutting global travel times and costs dramatically. “Here is the future I believe in,” Scholl stated in the video. “A future in which you can get anywhere on the planet in four hours, for just $100.”

The announcement brought back memories of Concorde planes, which came with as many limitations as possibilities.

Concordes, which were only operated by British Airways and the Air France, could travel at speeds of up to Mach Two, or twice the speed of sound. But because of the massive sonic boom that came with breaking the sound barrier, they could only fly transatlantic routes. 

While Concordes cut those flight times in half, flights were also extremely expensive, meaning the only people who could afford them were passengers with deep pockets. The average round-trip price was $12,000 a ticket.

Like Concorde, the Overture design features a delta wing, a feature that accounted for the Concordes’ dramatic signature steep angle during takeoff and landing.

Like Concordes, the Overture will fly at the stratospheric height of 60,000 feet and at the slightly slower speed of Mach 1.7. Most standard airliners fly at 45,000 feet or lower.

As Vox reported of Concorde in 2016, a number of factors led to the planes’ retirement in 2003. Factors included the catastrophic crash of Air France flight 4590 in July 2000 that killed 113 people. The accident grounded the planes until 2001, at which time the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks depressed the overall airline industry. After these disasters, coupled with the fact that the Concordes were already expensive to operate, British Airways and Air France retired their fleets in 2003.

We reached out to Boom Supersonic for comment but didn’t get a response in time for publication.