Nearly two decades after the last supersonic passenger flight aboard the Concorde, United Airlines took the firmest step yet Thursday toward once again connecting cities across the Atlantic in just three hours.
Chicago-based United announced it signed an aircraft purchase agreement with Denver-based Boom Supersonic, a company that creates supersonic jets.
United will purchase 15 of Boom’s “Overture” airliners once the planes meet United’s safety, operating, and sustainability requirements. The agreement includes an option for an additional 35 jets.
The first passenger flights are planned for 2029. United said the plane will fly on 100 percent “sustainable aviation fuel,” meaning it can be a net-zero carbon aircraft. The first test flights are currently scheduled for 2026. United called this the world’s first purchase of a net-zero carbon supersonic aircraft, although current aircraft can fly on alternative fuels; the challenge thus far has been the cost of these fuels and an inability to produce them at a large enough scale to fuel entire flights.
“United continues on its trajectory to build a more innovative, sustainable airline and today’s advancements in technology are making it more viable for that to include supersonic planes,” United CEO Scott Kirby said in a statement. “Boom’s vision for the future of commercial aviation, combined with the industry’s most robust route network in the world, will give business and leisure travelers access to a stellar flight experience. Our mission has always been about connecting people and now working with Boom, we’ll be able to do that on an even greater scale.”
“Boom” is a reference to the loud supersonic “boom” heard when jets fly overhead at speeds greater than the speed of sound (about 760 miles per hour.) In the Concorde era, supersonic jets were generally restricted from flying at full speed above populated areas.
The supersonic jets are estimated to fly twice as fast as the airlines we have today, meaning a flight from New York City to London would take about three and a half hours, down from the normal six and a half hour flight passengers currently experience.
The planes will be able to carry 65 to 88 passengers, which is about half of the capacity seen on flights presently.