Here’s Why COVID-19 Won’t Accelerate Supersonic Flight

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With the progress companies like Boom and Aerion have been making with their faster-than-sound prototypes, the return of something similar to the Concorde has been eagerly anticipated by aviation enthusiasts. But with COVID-19 crushing the aviation industry, are we going to have to wait even longer for the return of supersonic commercial flights?

FAA Supersonic
Two supersonic aviation companies estimate mid-2020 for entry into service. Photo: Boom Technology

Recent supersonic progress

Even though commercial aviation is down by as much as 95%, progress is still being made in the world of supersonic aviation.

Last month, Aerion Supersonic announced plans to construct a new state-of-the-art campus in Melbourne, Florida with the name ‘Aerion Park’. The facility will be an integrated campus for ‘research, design, build and maintenance’ of the company’s supersonic aircraft, the AS2.

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“The establishment of Aerion’s Melbourne campus, where we will manufacture our supersonic aircraft, is expected to generate at least 675 highly skilled design and assembly jobs in Florida by 2026.” -Aerion Supersonic

And Aerion isn’t the only company making progress in the midst of a global pandemic. In fact, according to BusinessDen, Boom Supersonic managed to raise $3 million in April, as evidenced by a Form D filed with the SEC. The money from this round came from the contributions of six investors.

Based in Englewood, Colorado, the aerospace company told BusinessDen that the contributors were adding to their prior investment in advance of Boom’s next formal fundraising round. This next round is expected to take place within 12 months. The company had already raised an impressive $100 million almost a year and a half ago – in January 2019.

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Delta A350
With remote business meetings on the rise, and airlines looking to preserve cash and make the most of their existing jets, will there even be demand for supersonic aircraft in the next few years? Photo: Delta Air Lines

From Boom to Zoom: Will there be demand when jets are ready?

Planning large-scale, long-term projects is an incredibly difficult task that comes with a great amount of risk. Indeed, with such a long timeframe, global events such as a pandemic, could devastate the target market for your product or service. Could this be the case for supersonic commercial aircraft? Or is COVID-19 just a bump in the road?

Obviously, when companies like Aerion and Boom began their projects, an event like COVID-19 was not anticipated. In fact, Aerion began in 2003 while Boom started much later, in 2014.

We are still slowly learning just how much COVID-19 will change commercial aviation and our day-to-day lives. We do know that there has been an overall shift towards remote work. This is best exemplified by Twitter and Shopify announcing a shift to a permanent work-from-home structure. And with companies like Zoom gaining in popularity, how many business trips will be substituted by video-conferencing?

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BOOM SUpersonic
Boom is advertising the Overture as a narrowbody luxury jet. Photo: Boom Technology

And then there are the prospective buyers of these aircraft – the airlines. Japan Airlines is an investor in Boom, but the airline has had to cut 96% of its international flights for June and had to postpone the launch of its budget carrier, ZipAir.

Yes – these are very short-term reactions – but recovery will take place over the long-term, with many airline CEOs and analysts giving a two to three-year estimate for recovery to 2019 levels. We already know that airlines have had to send their older aircraft into early retirement, opting for leaner fleets that maximize efficiency. So what does this mean for ordering supersonic jets in the near term?

Conclusion

Still, the process to get a supersonic aircraft to commercial production is a long road that has yet to be fully traveled. When a functioning test aircraft is built, a great deal of scrutiny will take place by regulators. This will, of course, include a series of test flights. Boom is on track for a 2023 entry into service while Aerion is estimating a 2026 launch. Maybe, just maybe, this is far enough away that airlines could consider placing an order in a year or two? We’ll have to wait and see…

Do you think there will be enough demand for supersonic commercial aircraft by the time these jets are ready for service? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Simple Flying reached out to both Boom and Aerion for their thoughts. As it is the weekend, we aren’t expecting a response until the work week begins. We’ll update this article if anything comes in.

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