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Supersonic planes are fast! A flight from New York City to London, which is normally six and a half hours, would be cut to only three and a half. Meanwhile, a flight from San Francisco to Tokyo, which currently takes around 10 hours, would be cut to only six.
What’s the deal with supersonic jets?
- United Airlines recently announced that it has ordered 15 supersonic planes from a company called Boom Supersonic.
- It’s worth remembering that supersonic passenger jets aren’t really new. A supersonic plane called the Concorde was one of those used by British and French airlines, but a plane crash in 2000, as well as expensive maintenance costs, meant that it didn’t make much money for the airlines that used it.
- Since then, supersonic passenger flights haven’t been seen as worth it for airlines. The ticket prices are simply too high and safety concerns mean that even if people get over the price tag, they might not buy a ticket anyway.
- Boom is a startup based in Denver and its timeline has the new jets, part of a line called the Overture, running passenger flights before the end of the decade.
Why do the planes matter so much?
- Supersonic planes are fast! A flight from New York City to London, which is normally six and a half hours, would be cut to only three and a half. Meanwhile, a flight from San Francisco to Tokyo, which currently takes around 10 hours, would be cut to only six.
- The investment into supersonic flight, though, is being seen by some as a sort of push for new innovation in a post-COVID-19 world. Airlines have been hit hard by the pandemic, but they argue that risk-taking is what is needed now more than ever.
- The flights will still be expensive, but experts seem to think that high prices just mean that supersonic flights would target business class passengers, rather than people just going on vacation or flying commercially for personal reasons.
What are the downsides of the jets?
- Aside from the high costs, the other big downside for supersonic jets is that they’re not great for the environment.
- Some estimates say that the supersonic jets produce five to seven times more in carbon emissions than regular planes, mostly because they tend to carry fewer passengers than other planes.
- United has pushed back against this, saying that they would make the planes “net zero from day one,” but climate change activists have argued the net-zero claim is just a clever tactic used by the company to make it look like it cares about the environment without actually caring about the environment.
So will new supersonic flights solve airlines’ money problem?
- So far the majority of the financial details haven’t been openly announced, but most people think the answer is a strong maybe.
- United has said that the economics should be about the same as the Boeing 787, which is the plane most often used for the kinds of international flights that the Overture will likely be taking.
- But the big question seems to be whether or not planes that target mostly business passengers can even succeed after COVID-19 proved how much can be done remotely through virtual meetings and online work platforms.
- If the planes work out, United will likely be ahead of the curve on bringing fast air travel back. If they don’t, United will likely be millions of dollars in the hole. Ultimately, United’s bet is just that – a bet.
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