Concorde, the ground-breaking supersonic aircraft, the result of a collaboration between the UK and France, saw its last commercial flight on 24th October 2003. The project was not without its difficulties and was for some years was regarded as a bit of a commercial white elephant. British Airways only saw a profit in its final years of operation.

Now there is renewed interest in supersonic travel with US Airline, United, entering the market with a plan to buy 15 new supersonic aircraft named Overture from a Denver-based company called Boom.

The big question is whether renewed interest in supersonic travel will be a commercial boom?

Certainly, the prospects of halving the flight time between destinations such as London and New York seem appealing but there are some challenges.

The noise caused by the sonic boom of supersonic travel will have to be mitigated by lower speeds over populated areas until the aircraft reaches the ocean and away from citizens who would otherwise be disturbed.

Fuel consumption
Supersonic speeds require more power and more fuel, so how can this be aligned to today’s need for more sustainable flying?

The aspiration is for Overture to be operated as a net zero carbon aircraft. To achieve this it will run on sustainable aviation fuel – made out of everything from waste animal fat from farming to specially grown crops. However, we are a long way away from producing anything like the capacity needed. Boom predicts this shortfall will be met by ‘power-to-liquid’ processes where renewables are used to create liquid fuel.

Is there enough demand for supersonic travel?
These days, wealthy travellers travel on private business jets or charter private planes. However, unlike Concorde, projections suggest that Overture could be profitable even if the tickets were sold in parity with a regular business class fare.

If United can prove that the model for supersonic travel can be made to work, this could dramatically reduce flight times across many major routes globally. We wish them well.

Please see more on this BBC link to the story.