Thirteen years after Concorde’s last flight, supersonic passenger travel is coming back – and this time it’ll be “affordable”, according to the millionaire Silicon Valley entrepreneur behind a new plane called Boom.
“We are talking about the first supersonic jet people can afford to fly,” said Blake Scholl, the founder and chief executive of Boom, as he announced the company’s plans on Wednesday. “This isn’t science-fiction, we are actually doing this. You will be able to fly New York to London in three-and-a-half hours for $5,000 return, [which is roughly] the same as [the cost] of business class.”
Scholl, 35, said his team of experienced aerospace engineers will build and test a prototype plane by the end of next year and commercial flights could begin with just a few years. He said he has already signed a letter of intent with a major London-based airline, which wants to buy $2bn worth of his jets to restart transatlantic supersonic flights for first time since Concorde was decommissioned in November 2003.
Scholl said his plane will be able to succeed where Concorde ultimately failed because flights will be so much cheaper that business executives could even commute across the Atlantic.
“Concorde was just too expensive to fly, and to fill 100 seats at $20,000 each,” Scholl said. “You have to bring the ticket price down, and make the aeroplane the right size so you can fill the seats.”
Boom’s plane will have 40 seats in two rows either side of the aisle, meaning that every passenger will get a direct view of the curvature of the earth as the plane cruises at 60,000ft, as well as direct access to the drinks trolley.
“We are offering a service that’s way faster, but for the cost of business,” Scholl said. “There is a huge market out there, more than 20 million a year fly business class internationally. We can take them to Mach 2.2 (1,451mph, and faster than Concorde which flew at a top speed of Mach 2.04) and save them half their journey time.”
Scholl reckons there is so much demand for faster international travel that affordable supersonic flights could become a $100bn market. He said his plane could work on 500 different routes, but will concentrate initially on London to New York, San Francisco to Tokyo, and Los Angeles to Sydney. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and its equivalents in most countries, bans supersonic air travel overland.
“Imagine departing from New York at 6am, and landing at Heathrow by 2.30pm London time,” Scholl said. “You’ll be able to make afternoon meetings, you can stay until 9.30pm have a full productive day, and and back in New York at 8pm [local time] so you can tuck your kids into bed.
“The same thing works in the Pacific. San Francisco to Tokyo will take four and a half hours, you can leave in the morning have meetings, eat great sushi and be back in California before midnight on the day you left. This is not saving you an hour here or there, this lets you commute.”
Scholl, a pilot and former Amazon executive, is leading an 11-person team, including former Nasa, Lockheed Martin and Boeing engineers, constructing the plane in a hanger in Denver, Colorado. He said cheaper commercial supersonic travel is possible mainly due to advances in carbon fibre technology, which should enable his team to construct a plane that’s 30% more fuel efficient than Concorde.
He said that while several other companies, including Boeing and Lockheed Martin, are developing new supersonic jets the Boom plan is likely to beat them to market as it does not require any new technology that would need approval by regulators.
When asked if his planes are really going to come to fruition, Scholl said: “This isn’t science-fiction. If I was telling you it was going to go Mach 4 [four times the speed of sound] – but, I’m not. We’re not using any technology that doesn’t already exist, it is just putting it together in the right way. It will still be tested rigorously.”
Scholl concedes that he still needs much more funding to get even the prototype into the air. So far Boom has attracted just $2m of investment from mostly Silicon Valley billionaires, but Scholl says he has more investors lined up when he needs to tap fresh funds.
“I started this because I was sad that I never got to fly on Concorde. I waited but no one was doing it, so I decided to,” Scholl said. “Ultimately I want people to be able to get anywhere in the world in five hours for $100. To get there you have to improve fuel efficiency, but step-by-step supersonic air travel will become available for everyone.
“This is supersonic passenger air travel, no bullshit, and it’s actually affordable.”