The Dawn Of A New Supersonic Era: United Airlines Is In The Lead

With the launch of any aircraft type, orders and major commitments from airlines can often cause a ‘snowball effect.’ Something that was previously obscure and niche suddenly gains credibility and increased financial backing and becomes more lucrative. Yesterday’s shocking announcement from United Airlines for up to 50 Boom Overtures might just lead to even more airline interest in supersonic commercial air travel.

The Dawn Of A New Supersonic Era: United Airlines Is In The Lead
Despite being a conceptual render, this image of four supersonic jets parked at Newark Liberty Airport gives us an exciting glimpse into the future of air travel. Photo: United Airlines

Who’s onboard so far?

United’s announcement of a provisional order for 15 supersonic Overture jets from Boom (with an option for 35 additional aircraft) isn’t actually the first news of a commercial airline backing Boom Supersonic.

Indeed, Japan Airlines was fairly early in its dealings with the American supersonic firm. In December 2017, the carrier confirmed that it had pre-ordered up to 20 jets from Boom.

“As a strategic investor, JAL collaborates with Boom to refine the aircraft design and help define the passenger experience for supersonic travel.” – Boom Supersonic

According to Tech Crunch, Boom had announced a deal with Virgin Group in 2016 for an option for ten planes. The deal was estimated to be worth around $2 billion. However, despite all the press that emerged at the time, Virgin Group does not appear to be listed as a partner in the same way as Japan Airlines and United Airlines. Virgin Galactic’s pursuit of its own supersonic jet is an indication that the two companies went their separate ways.

The Dawn Of A New Supersonic Era: United Airlines Is In The Lead
The Overture is expected to enter service around 2029. Photo: Boom Supersonic

United leads the way

With interest in as many as 50 supersonic passenger jets, United currently leads the way in developing a future fleet of faster-than-sound passenger aircraft. The airline expects to operate the Overture on transoceanic routes, including San Francisco to Tokyo, New York to Frankfurt, and of course, New York to London.

While Japan Airlines’ commitment was significant as well, the United Airlines deal is a significant boost to the program. Indeed, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to predict that other American carriers might follow in United’s footsteps. After all, the US aviation market is highly competitive, and the three major US carriers often find themselves trying to ‘one-up’ each other.

If this were to happen, then it might spark further interest from airlines around the world, with carriers in the Middle East and Europe hoping to get in on the action.

 

The Dawn Of A New Supersonic Era: United Airlines Is In The Lead
United’s commitment to the aircraft could provide a great deal of momentum in terms of orders. Photo: Boom Supersonic.

Just the beginning of airline interest?

When major airlines sign commitments, it signals to the rest of the airline sector that the project has significant potential to become a reality. This is because any smart customer would have conducted thorough research into the project before making a significant investment. Additionally, any financial commitments will ensure that the project has the resources it needs to continue developing the aircraft and bring it to market. Thus, the latest order might just be the beginning.

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If you go back in time and look at the development of the Concorde, you’ll see that it wasn’t just British Airways and Air France that had made commitments for the supersonic jet. Indeed, while the two European carriers would ultimately be the only airlines taking delivery of and operating the jet, many, many more airlines had also placed options.

The following table shows all the airlines and their options or orders. Data is sourced from the website Heritage Concorde.

Concorde options Date Placed Date Cancelled
BOAC (then British Airways) 6

(plus 1 more in 1984)

June 3rd, 1963
Air France 6

(plus 1 more in 1980)

June 3rd, 1963
Pan American World Airways 8 6 options June 3rd, 1963, plus 2 more July 24th, 1966 January 31st, 1973
Continental 3 July 24th, 1963 March 1973
Trans World Airlines (TWA) 6 4 options on October 16th, 1963, 2 more on March 30th, 1964 February 1973
American Airlines 6 4 options on October 7th, 1963, 2 more on January 16th, 1964 February 1973
Middle East Airlines (MEA) 4 2 on December 4th, 1963, 2 more on January 16th, 1964 February / June 1973
Qantas 4 March 19th, 1964 2 options canceled in 1966, others in 1973
Air India 2 July 15th, 1964 February 1975
Japan Airlines 3 September 30th, 1965 1973
Sabena 2 December 1st, 1965 February 1973
Eastern Airlines 6 2 on June 28th, 1966, August 15th, 1966, and April 28th, 1967 February 1973
United Airlines 6 June 29th, 1966 November 1972
Braniff 3 September 1st, 1966 February 1973
Lufthansa 3 February 16th, 1967 April 1973
Air Canada 4 March 1st, 1967 June 1972
CAAC 3  2 on July 24th, 1972, 1 more on August 28th December 1979 / February 1980
IranAir 3 (2 orders, 1 option) October 8th, 1972 February 1980

Therefore, with the most recent announcement from United Airlines, we wouldn’t be surprised to see other carriers follow suit and place orders or options of their own.

Who do you think might be next in placing an order with Boom Supersonic? Do you think another US carrier will join soon? Let us know your predictions and guesses by leaving a comment.

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