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When Could We See the Return of Supersonic Passenger Flights?

Margaret Lipman
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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The last commercial supersonic passenger flight took off in October 2003 when passengers boarded a British Airways Concorde at New York’s JFK International Airport, bound for London Heathrow. The transatlantic crossing took less than three hours. Safety concerns stemming from the tragic crash of an Air France Concorde outside Paris in July 2000, which claimed 113 lives, coupled with soaring oil prices and exorbitant ticket costs, brought an abrupt conclusion to supersonic passenger jet travel. Since then, jets capable of exceeding the speed of sound (767 mph or 1,235 km/h) have mostly been used for military operations.

However, commercial supersonic travel could be making a comeback, thanks to companies like Boom, Exosonic, and Spike that hope to usher in a future of supersonic travel that will be cheaper, quieter, and better for the environment.

The Denver-based company Boom aims to debut Overture, its supersonic passenger jet, in 2029. Boom CEO Blake Scholl has said they expect to seat 64 to 80 passengers on the aircraft, which is supposed to have a top speed of Mach 1.7 – more than twice the speed of a regular subsonic aircraft. However, this is one-sixth slower than the Concorde and means that it won't need afterburners, which maximize engine thrust yet use a significant amount of fuel. Due to regulations prohibiting supersonic flights over land to mitigate disruptive sonic booms, the routes available to Overture will mostly be over water.

One of Overture’s promised features will be its commitment to reducing carbon emissions. Fueled by sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) made from raw materials such as agricultural products, waste fats, plant sugars, and algae, SAF emits 70% less carbon than conventional petroleum-based jet fuel.

While the prospect of cleaner, quicker travel is alluring, questions have been raised about the viability of commercial supersonic travel. Notably, SAF is far more expensive than traditional jet fuel, which deters airlines from buying SAF and manufacturing facilities from mass-producing these fuels. Due to the high speeds of supersonic travel, these planes would burn much more fuel than a regular passenger jet, which is a big obstacle as there isn’t enough SAF for the planes flying today. Worryingly, a study conducted in 2022 by the International Council on Clean Transportation found that supersonic jets could use up to nine times as much fuel as subsonic commercial aircraft. This raises concerns about the cost of supersonic aviation. Boom has stated that its ticket prices will be far cheaper than those of its predecessor, Concorde, but it is still expected that a round-trip from New York to London could cost $5,000.

Whether 2029 will usher in a new era of supersonic travel remains to be seen. Still, addressing the economic and environmental challenges will be crucial if supersonic aviation is to ever have a sustainable future.

Supersonic and beyond:

  • When you travel at supersonic speeds, you’re moving faster than the Earth rotates.

  • The U.S. company Hermeus is investigating the feasibility of hypersonic flights, which means reaching Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound. If successful, passengers could fly from New York to London in 90 minutes.

  • The development of Concorde was state-funded by the United Kingdom and France. It is estimated that each country spent around $1.44 billion on the program, which operated between 1976 and 2003.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.
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Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
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