Start-up Boom vows to revive supersonic commercial travel

Relatively well-heeled travellers could soon fly between London and New York aboard a supersonic commercial airplane in about 2.5 hours, according to start-up Boom Supersonic - less time than it takes to watch some movies.

Such supersonic air travel could be back in little more than five years if a plane that aims to replace Concorde takes to the skies.

Boom Supersonic, an aerospace company based in Denver, expects a prototype of its passenger plane to make its first test flight by the end of 2018, after subsonic and supersonic tests will take place in the US.

If the full-size 55-seat plane is then approved, the first passengers could be travelling at supersonic speeds across the Atlantic by 2023.

Boom said at the Paris Air Show on Tuesday that it also aims to shuttle passengers from San Francisco to Tokyo, gate-to-gate, in 5.5 hours, against. the current 11-hour travel time. Flights from Los Angeles to Sydney would take just under seven hours, compared with the current 15.

"Airlines are excited for something new and different to offer their passengers - and we're thrilled that major world airlines share our vision for a future of faster, more accessible supersonic travel," Blake Scholl, Boom's founder and chief executive, said at the show.

Scholl said the design of the XB-1 demonstration plane had passed a performance and safety review ahead of manufacturing.

Boom said five unnamed airlines had placed 76 orders for its passenger plane, which resembles Concorde but has a delta wing that sweeps almost to the tip of the nose. It will also ditch the afterburner engine used by the British-French supersonic pioneer that was not only extremely loud but also very thirsty.

"By using a modern turbofan engine like Boeing and Airbus, you can make the aircraft both quieter and significantly more fuel efficient," Scholl told the BBC.

The company claims that airlines flying its plane will be able to charge similar prices to a business class fare on the lucrative London-New York route of about $5,000 return. Concorde tickets used to cost up to about three times that amount.

Five airlines have already placed more than 70 orders for Boom's faster-than-sound passenger airliners, the company announced at the air show. The 76 aircraft reservations were made by Virgin, which booked 10 planes, and four other airlines that will be announced in the coming months, the company said.

Some experts, however, are sceptical that Boom can deliver on its vision and offer a product that makes financial sense. The European aircraft Concorde, which ended its transatlantic supersonic flight in 2003, was never commercially viable, and with airfare at $20,000, appealed to only a very narrow slice of travellers. Fuel economy, unproven technology, challenging routing times, and regulations against supersonic commercial flight are key obstacles Boom faces, according to experts.

There are also some travel limitations. The United States and many other countries do not allow supersonic commercial flights over land, because of the loud shock wave that can pose a nuisance to communities below. But a Boom spokesman said that its passenger airliner is being designed to minimise the noise it makes and that Boom will work to change those regulations.

The company said that it will succeed where Concorde failed because Boom is using better engines and improved aerodynamics and materials to help reduce the costs of operating and maintaining its aircraft.

As for coach-airfare seats, they wouldn't be economically feasible for Boom to offer with the first wave of these planes, the spokesman said, but the company could do this in the future.