Supersonic passenger flights ended in 2003 when Air France and British Airways retired Concorde. The new Overture aircraft will be produced by a Denver-based company called Boom, which has yet to flight-test a supersonic jet.
United’s deal is conditional on the new aircraft meeting safety standards. Supersonic flight is when an aircraft travels faster than the speed of sound. At an altitude of 60,000ft (18,300m), that means flying faster than 660mph (1,060km/h).
At that speed, journey times on transatlantic routes such as London to New York can be cut in half. Boom says Overture would be able to make the trip in 3.5 hours, shaving three hours off the flight. Concorde, which entered passenger service in 1976, was even faster with a maximum speed of Mach 2.04 – about 1,350mph (2,180km/h).
There are two major concerns with supersonic passenger travel: noise and pollution. Travelling faster than the speed of sound causes a sonic boom, which can be heard on the ground as a loud thunderclap or explosion. It’s where the company Boom got its name.
Boom says it is confident that its plane will not be any louder than other modern passenger jets while taking off, flying over land and landing. It also hopes improvements in aircraft design since Concorde will help it reduce and mitigate the sonic boom.
The other big issue is fuel consumption. “In order to fly supersonic, you will need more power, you will need more fuel,” Kathy Savitt, Boom’s chief commercial officer, told the BBC. But she expects Overture to be operated as a “net-zero carbon aircraft”.