Wednesday, October 5 2022

Boom Supersonic insists it has the demand and the technology to make superfast jet travel profitable nearly 20 years after the Concorde retired, as it battles intense industry skepticism.

“There is a need for hundreds, if not thousands, of these planes,” chief executive Blake Scholl said in an interview.

Boom claims to have identified 600 global routes where airlines could operate the Overture, an aircraft that would cut flight time between certain destinations by nearly half. New York to London would drop from 6.5 hours to 3.5 hours, while Tokyo to Seattle would drop from 8.5 hours to 4.5 hours.

The lack of an engine manufacturer for the Overture is one of many factors fueling doubts in the aviation industry as to whether it will ever take flight. Scholl said Boom was set to make an “exciting engine announcement” in the coming months, but declined to say whether he had identified a partner for the project.

“It’s not just about the engine technology,” added Scholl. “It’s about breakthroughs in sustainability and breakthroughs in the business model that will lead to better economics.”

Denver-based Boom is developing a four-engine jet aircraft with a maximum cruise speed of Mach 1.7, which is 70% faster than the speed of sound. Its subsonic speed is said to be Mach 0.94, higher than the Mach 0.75 to 0.85 of traditional commercial airliners.

The 200-foot-long aircraft would carry 65 to 80 passengers over a distance of 4,250 nautical miles with a full payload. By comparison, a wide-body Boeing 787-8 can accommodate nearly 250 passengers and fly 7,305 nautical miles. Boom called the Overture “durable” because it’s “designed to run on 100% sustainable aviation fuel.”

The company has an order book of 130 jets. American Airlines last week placed a deposit on 20 Overtures with an option for 40 more, while Japan Airlines pre-ordered 20 planes in 2017. United Airlines became the first US carrier to order Overtures in 2021.

Orders from some of the world’s largest airlines have given credibility to a project that many analysts and aviation executives believe will never materialize.

Overture “is a paper airplane right now,” said Kevin Michaels, managing director of AeroDynamic Advisory. There are “so many issues for Boom to overcome,” he added. “I don’t expect to see him.”

Since its inception in 2014, the company has raised $600 million from investors, Scholl said. It will take billions more to complete the plane.

Investors and analysts are closely following the development of Boom’s XB-1, a small technology demonstrator that the start-up says it wants to test in flight by the end of the year despite several deadlines it has imposed on itself.

There are also questions about whether there will be a market for so many superfast jets – which are banned from flying over the earth at supersonic speeds because of the noise they make, known as sonic booms. Only 14 Concordes entered service and carriers Air France and British Airways were only able to use them on certain transatlantic routes.

Scholl predicted that production of sustainable aviation fuel would increase rapidly ahead of Boom’s 2029 goal of operating its first passenger flight. Abundant supplies of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) are considered a requirement for new supersonic aircraft as they consume much more power than a regular aircraft.

“The economy is always tough on something like this,” said Teal Group analyst Bruce McClelland. “It’s an exponential increase in fuel” and “there’s [nowhere] enough SAF to meet demand.

“For me, this is a huge greenwashing exercise. It is beyond my mind how they are going to do this square,” he added.

An Overture-type aircraft would burn seven times more fuel per seat-mile than a subsonic aircraft, said Dan Rutherford, aviation program director at the International Council on Clean Transportation. He wrote in a tweet that Boom’s SAF analysis “completely ignores the true growth trajectories of SAF.”

“You’re talking about 20 times the fuel bill per passenger,” Rutherford added. “Which airline would take their most expensive fuel and reserve it for the least efficient plane?

Despite pre-orders from some major airlines, many other executives remain skeptical.

“Frankly, I still have a lot more questions than answers,” Delta chief executive Ed Bastian told Fox Business last week. “Until we are confident that we can actually generate a reliable return from the aircraft, that is not where we are investing.”


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