Flying faster than the speed of sound. Enjoying a transatlantic flight in less time than it may take to drive between Washington DC and New York City. That’s the promise of supersonic passenger flight. For a while, travelers with means were able to enjoy this if they flew the Concorde but those flights haven’t been available since 2003. Now new companies are doing what they can to bring passenger supersonic flight back to paying customers. Here’s what’s happening.
The golden age of supersonic travel
Beginning in the 1970s, supersonic jet travel was available to anyone who had enough money to afford the ticket price. British Airways and Air France regularly brought passengers across the Atlantic at just under three and a half hours. The planes themselves were considered marvels of engineering and passengers lucky enough to fly on them felt privileged to experience the future of air flight.
Unfortunately, the high ticket prices for a flight couldn’t entirely ease the financial pressures of maintaining the airlines and when sales weakened, the pressures grew. Government regulations against the noise of the jets added to the stress. When Air France Flight 4290 crashed just north of France, the pressures escalated. Three years later, the last Concorde took to the skies.
Understandably, there are a lot of people who miss the days of fast passenger flight. They find it amazing that, in the face of so much other technological advancements, the time it takes to fly by jet hasn’t decreased since the 1950s. Those supersonic fans are working to bring fast commercial air travel back.
New efforts to create supersonic passenger travel
Who are the companies looking to revitalize supersonic travel? In 2017, Boom Technology out of Denver, Colorado announced plans to work with Japan Airlines to make and fly the planes. The company is led by tech entrepreneur Blake Scholl, a man who is passionate about flying and bringing an iconic flying experience back to paying passengers.
A second company, Hermeus Hypersonic Jets from Atlanta, Georgia also announced plans to resume passenger air travel within about ten years. This company, however, believe it can make the trip in 90 minutes–that’s less than half the time it took the Concorde to get there.
In addition to these two companies, numerous other governments, and industrial flight powerhouses Lockheed Martin and Boeing are researching supersonic technologies with a goal to bring back supersonic jets. All signs are positive that flyers may be in for a second golden age of supersonic travel.
Overcoming the Concorde’s problems
To be successful, the new companies will still have to overcome the cost barriers and noise that ultimately caused the Concorde’s downfall. Naturally, they’ve got plenty of ideas on how things can work–and work better this time out of the gate.
Other engineering advancements also make the jet plane more likely to succeed this time around. For example, engineers believe they can build engines in a way that will make them better able to withstand the higher temperatures of supersonic flight. In addition, companies are working diligently to reduce the overwhelming “boom” made by the planes.
Fans of supersonic travel are also wondering if the business model will be more sustainable. As with its predecessor, supersonic passenger travel of the future won’t be cheap. For example, Hermeus expects to charge $3,000 for a single ticket. However, the companies working to build the jets believe that in today’s hyper-connected world there are plenty of people, like businessmen who need to get across the Atlantic and be home by dinner, will find the elevated price tags worth it. Let’s hope that they are right and that supersonic flight will, once again, be an option for travelers.