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  • (intense music)

  • - [Narrator] United Airlines

  • wants to bring back supersonic air travel

  • with a new aircraft. (bass thumping)

  • The airline says it plans to buy 15 Overture jets

  • from the start-up aerospace company Boom Supersonic.

  • Boom hopes to fly a scaled-down prototype later this year,

  • or early in 2022,

  • with the full size 88 seat version

  • targeted to carry passengers by 2029.

  • So what does this mean for the future of supersonic travel?

  • Is this acquisition a turning point,

  • or should the markets be more skeptical?

  • - United's announcement isn't a game changer

  • for supersonic travel.

  • We've had pretend orders, almost real orders before.

  • The proof is when United actually spends money.

  • - [Narrator] But Boom CEO Blake Scholl

  • disputed that critique.

  • In an email to the "Journal," he wrote,

  • "United has agreed to purchase 15 Overture aircraft

  • on industry standard terms,

  • including nonrefundable upfront payments."

  • In a statement to the "Wall Street Journal,"

  • United said, "While we cannot disclose

  • the financial details,

  • we can confirm that we have made a deposit

  • which signals our confidence in Boom

  • as well as the aircraft they are building."

  • Over the past decade, several startups,

  • the most prominent of which include Boom, Aerion, and Spike,

  • have been working to develop

  • the next generation of commercial supersonic jets.

  • But creating a new plane that can travel

  • faster than the speed of sound and do it safely

  • is not easy or cheap.

  • - Really, this is just a question of funding.

  • It's probably gonna cost well over $20 billion

  • to develop a supersonic jet, to say nothing

  • of the cost of actually building it and buying it.

  • - [Narrator] Last month, Aerion,

  • which is backed by Boeing,

  • folded after was unable to raise enough money

  • to produce a planned supersonic business jet.

  • (upbeat music)

  • The British French airliner Concorde

  • was one of only two supersonic jets

  • to have operated commercially,

  • but it failed as a business

  • because of its high ticket prices

  • and a 2000 crash in Paris

  • that left 113 people dead.

  • A 3 1/2 hour Concorde flight between New York and London

  • cost as much as $10,000 in the year 2000.

  • Although United has not said

  • how much tickets on its supersonic jets

  • would eventually cost,

  • they would likely be more expensive than a typical flight.

  • But who is the target market?

  • - There are really two very distinct markets.

  • The corporate market, the business jet market,

  • typically has very low elasticity.

  • They don't really care how much they pay for travel,

  • whereas a scheduled air transport, the jetliner business,

  • the airliner business, they are typically used

  • thousands of hours per year.

  • Obviously that market is a bit more sensitive to price.

  • (soft intense music)

  • - [Narrator] Today, business travelers have come to expect

  • a certain level of luxury on their subsonic flights.

  • Given the smaller size of the supersonic planes,

  • that same experience may be hard to duplicate.

  • But United isn't concerned about demand.

  • The airline said it believes there will be ample appetite

  • for supersonic trips from business travelers

  • concentrated in United's coastal hubs.

  • United told the "Journal,"

  • "Boom is designing Overture to be profitable

  • at fares comparable to today's subsonic business class,

  • thanks in large part to a 75% reduction in operating costs

  • relative to Concorde."

  • Technological hurdles have hampered development.

  • - There was a reason Concorde had 100 seats.

  • If they could have made it bigger with the materials

  • available at that time and the engines available

  • at that time, they would have,

  • which would have made

  • the aircraft potentially more economic.

  • So designers now have new materials, new engines,

  • but they still face that basic physics,

  • which is why the shapes are very similar

  • between these new designs and Concorde.

  • - [Narrator] Perhaps the biggest technological problem

  • is reducing the Sonic boom

  • that is made when these supersonic jets

  • break the sound barrier.

  • - NASA has kind of led the research in the US,

  • and has a test program going on right now.

  • And what their researchers say that the modeling shows,

  • instead of a boom that can break windows,

  • it will be become what they call a soft thump

  • is all that you would hear on the ground.

  • - [Narrator] For now, experts are skeptical

  • about the economic viability of supersonic travel.

  • - Basically, I think Boom is feeling a bit under the gun

  • because of Aerion's collapse the previous week,

  • and they wanted to have something to take to investors

  • and say, hey, there's commercial activity here.

  • - [Narrator] Boom CEO Blake Scholl said

  • that "Aerion's demise came as a surprise to the industry

  • just a few weeks ago.

  • We couldn't possibly conclude a transaction

  • in that period of time."

  • - Little or no money has changed hands.

  • So United has certainly scored a big publicity coup.

  • Whether it's advanced the technology remains to be seen.

  • I guess that the big help might be

  • that Boom the aircraft maker might find it easier

  • to get the kind of finance that its rivals

  • have found it tough to find.

  • (soft music)

(intense music)

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United Airlines’ Bet on Supersonic Flight Faces Financial, Tech Hurdles | WSJ

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    joey joey posted on 2021/06/09
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