Last week American announced it had placed an order for 20 of the Boom Overture supersonic airplanes. It even paid real money for a deposit. On top of that, it has another 40 on option. That is a lot of supersonic airplane right there, so it made me wonder… what the heck would American do with all those airplanes?
The Boom Overture is, in theory, going to carry 65 to 80 passengers at speeds of up to Mach 1.7. The configuration has changed over the years, but that’s the current plan. The hope is to roll the airplane out in 2025 and have it carrying passengers by 2029. That is wildly optimistic consdering that the engine doesn’t exist to power this airplane today and Boom hasn’t certified an airplane before.
But let’s not worry about any of those details, and let’s pretend that this airplane is flying people in less than a decade. What I want to know is where those airplanes will fly.
Boom says that the airplane has a range of 4,250nm. Manufacturers always overstate range to a level beyond what airlines will actually operate. So, let’s give it a 10 percent haircut and call it 3,825nm as the actual range. (I should put “actual” in quotes since again, there is no engine yet.) Maybe it’s more flying eastbound, but with those winter westbound winds, this seems like a safer bet.
The ability to suppress the sonic boom on airplanes traveling faster than the speed of sound is not a part of this plan, so for American’s biggest hub at Dallas/Fort Worth, this airplane is likely a non-starter. It has to go too slow for too long to get to the coastline before it can turn on the jets. I don’t see a use for it there.
Over the Pacific, well, that’s also not really going to work. American did tout in its press release that it could reduce the flight time from LA to Honolulu to 3 hours. And to that I say… who cares? That means an 8am departure would get to Honolulu at 8am instead of 10:30am (at least when LA is on daylight saving time). Does anyone really need that kind of gain? No, they don’t. And they won’t be willing to pay extra for that. I hope American has better ideas than that.
From LA, that really is the only option. Take a look at this map from Great Circle Mapper showing 3,825nm from LAX.
So, uh, Anchorage? Lima? Those aren’t exactly high fare markets. But remember, American is ditching its Pacific gateway in LA anyway, so maybe it can use that Alaska hub in Seattle to help feed these flights. Or maybe not. It’s 4,174nm from Seattle to Tokyo/Haneda. Under the current specs, that’s pushing it. Maybe eventually more range will be squeezed out, but as of now, this isn’t a reliable Pacific airplane.
It’s also not a South American airplane. You need to fly over land (or around it) for far too long to get to the important business cities. This really is more of a Europe airplane the way it’s being pitched today.
In the press release, the other market American mentioned is Miami – London which can be flown in 5 hours. Ok, I’ll buy it. This sounds like a legitimate market with premium demand that could work. Great, that’s one. What else?
There isn’t much else here. Maybe you can push into Paris, but beyond that, I’m not sure which big markets would support service like this.
Charlotte has similar opportunities and isn’t too far from the coast, but is Charlotte really big enough to support this kind of flying? It doesn’t have a huge amount of local traffic, but this also isn’t a huge airplane. Maybe a London flight works.
You can do the same thing for Philly and JFK if you’d like. London works. Maybe Madrid can work with the Iberia hub there. And Paris could be an option. At JFK in particular, American might see this as an opportunity to move into new markets and leapfrog Delta. After all, Delta doesn’t seem particularly interested in this airplane. It is also rightly skeptical about whether it will ever be delivered anyway. But if American is right, it would have the advantage.
Even with these potential markets, remember we are talking about 20 airplanes to start. That is a LOT of airplanes. And since they fly so fast, they can easily do two or three flights a day.
So, do I see any opportunity with a functioning supersonic aircraft? Sure, if it can be built and delivered with the right specs. But I just don’t know that I see THAT many airplanes worth of opportunity, at least not with the specs as currently offered.
What do you mean by “The ability to suppress the sonic boom on airplanes traveling faster than the speed of sound is not a part of this plan”? That’s the entirety of the plan for Boom.
The FAQ on Boom’s own web site (https://boomsupersonic.com/contact#faq-section) states:
“How is Boom dealing with the sonic boom?
Overture will fly at subsonic speeds over land and near coasts, so people on the ground will not be exposed to sonic booms.
Over the ocean, Overture will cruise at supersonic speeds, cutting many flight times in half. Passengers won’t notice when the airplane breaks the sound barrier, which will be inaudible and uneventful.”
Designing a large airplane that’s (somewhat) efficient and effective at both subsonic AND supersonic speeds? That’s going to be difficult.
Really? I stand corrected! But that’s quite a change from the initial plans then. The initial plan was to use the new developments that NASA is promoting on one of the new X planes to reduce sonic boom and apply it on the Boom aircraft. A damp squib then.
This eliminates any Miami – South American routes. Unfortunate – Sao Paolo is in range, as is Buenos Aires (barely). There would certainly be decent demand for something shorter than the current 8-9 hours to get down there.
What? Nope, sorry, the Overture is not going to be able to suppress the BOOM! NASA is working on an airplane that does attempt to do that. You have possibly seen photos. The nose is a mile long into a sharp point. In fact it’s so long that it has to be supported on the ground. It has to have special cameras to land since the pilot can’t see over the nose.
Boom says the overture will fly faster over the ground than current airliners. The 737s fly at mach .80. The 787s, perhaps .84. Perhaps the Overture could do ,88 or something.
But Boom has clearly stated that it will not fly supersonic over the land.
As much as I’d love for Boom to be a booming success (bad pun intended), I’ll be skeptical until I actually see a prototype do test flights. There’s simply too much that can go wrong, even with the seemingly “unlimited” funding of some of the backers (note that “unlimited” often means “we have lots of funds until something really tragic/bad happens and gives us a PR black eye, or until the world changes, and then the purses may be magically empty”).
To me it looks like a boom or bust situation, another bad pun intended. Wasn’t United also taking orders as well?
I assume there isn’t any information available or probably even considered, but what sort of runway length will the Boom plane need? Iirc Concorde needed a very high takeoff and landing speed due to the supersonic wing, and therefore needed very long runways.
JFK, MIA and LHR should be fine, but runway length could limit destinations, or more importantly, potential diversion points and alternate airports for long overwater flights.
I just checked and: Runway requirement (with maximum load): 3,600 m (11,800 ft). (Wikipedia and other sites). That’s long, but not extremely long. Concorde flew to Ushuaia airport, with a 3,300 m (10,827 ft). It even flew to the Azores, Santa Maria Airport, which has a 3,048 m (10,000 ft) runway. Those are really normal lengths, I’d say.
I would think the demand for this between NYC/DC and London would be bottomless. That’s really all the plan they need.
I also wonder whether one stop Anchorage transpacific would be viable. How much time advantage would they have over a subsonic non-stop?
They are aiming for a 30-minute refueling time. Assuming that’s correct, how much time would the plane lose in descent, approach, taxi, takeoff, and climb back to 60k feet, including the 30 minutes when the fuel is being uploaded to the plane? 60 minutes? Even with everything in place for minimizing the turnaround time (such as priority, uncongested airspace, etc), the plane’s going to need time to go from 60k feet to the gate and vice versa.
Then again, if you’re already doing a refueling stop in (say) ANC for several planes/routes anyway, would it be worth trying to time arrivals in ANC to to allow connections for the sake of efficiency? How much more time would that take, and how much would a connection (as opposed to a refueling flight) take away from the value proposition?
Just because there is ample premium demand on (for example) New York-London doesn’t mean there’s a business case for the aircraft. As a business passenger flying from the US to London, would you rather a 7-hour flight, a flat bed, and maybe 5-6 hours sleep before you go into a full day of meetings, or a 3.5 or 4 hour flight in a reclining seat?
Here’s a very good article by British Airways’ former Director of Strategy on why this just isn’t going to work, written last year when United announced its “order”: https://www.gridpoint.consulting/blog/has-the-time-come-for-a-return-to-supersonic-travel
many thanks Patrick.. excellent article.. says it all..
An exciting, promising fantasy. DL is probably right to sit this one out until there is more clarity on BOOM and its potential. But back to AA. LAX-HNL? No. MIA-LHR? Maybe, but not necessarily the best use of the plane. The issue will be whether global business travel rebounds to 2019 levels by the time this plane moves from drawing board to test flights. If all that happens, then look for routes like JFK-LHR, JFK-NRT, and some other routes like tha from across AA hubs but right now, this is fantasy more than anything else.
Do you think Cacti would care about the sonic boom? If not, then how about LAXPHX ? Im certain there is at least a 3 minute savings if you can go SST over only the pure desert-y portions? That is clearly a demonstrable result that is worth one dedicated aircraft…. :)
I know the LAX-PHX comment is in jest, but one has to imagine that the longer-term goal is for the company to find a way to get the booms down to “acceptable” levels, at least so that its planes can fly supersonic over large, very sparsely populated areas (to start).
Money talks. If the Ukraine war gets sorted out and relations with Russia get back to quasi-normal, perhaps Russia would be willing to allow supersonic flights over Siberia for the right ($$$$$) price? The Canadian Arctic, Sahara desert, and Australian Outback are a few other areas that come to mind, as does central Saudi Arabia (at least for “official government” flights, if the Saudi royalty ever gets one of these planes for their own use).
I always thought that if a plane is above ~30,000 feet no one on the ground would hear a sonic boom.
Cranky, you mentioned in the article that AA is dismantling their Pacific hub at LAX. You have written about this before as well as other airlines doing the same thing, sometimes more than once. What is the airline’s logic for mimicking a flawed strategy that always fail?
Angry Bob – You mean buying the airplanes? It’s just a deposit, who knows how much. If it’s a lot, well, that seems like a bad idea. But if it’s not, then throw a few backs out there, let Boom get all the press about how well they’re selling, and then you may or may not get an airplane someday.
Is it possible that Hawaii to Japan might actually have enough deep pockets to merit a plane or two?
Mike – I tend to doubt that. After all, that is largely a Japan origin market that is heavily leisure. I just can’t imagine there being enough revenue premium, and certainly not for American. That’s a market where you just want to get your costs as low as possible.
Plus, JAL is already partnered with Boom.
An expensive airplane that carries only 65-80 passengers, and only to international destinations, points to fares in the stratosphere. American must believe that business travelers and the super-rich are going to be clamoring for these pricey flights every day of the year. But many things have changed since the days of the Concorde. And in all the hype about Boom and American’s commitment to it, I haven’t seen anything resembling a business model that explains how AA plans to make them profitable.
Are there other Asian cities that can be reached from either HNL or ANC that could make this plane viable such as Soul or Minilla?
If the sonic boom could be successfully suppressed, could we see JFK/ EWR – SAN/ LAX/ SFO/ SEA/ LAS? Insert other east coast hubs for the same effect. Fantasy I know, but we should at least try to build it out in our minds like “Cities Skylines,” but for airplanes.
The obvious solution: in-flight refueling./s
At supersonic speeds? That seems expensive.
As much as I’d love to see a return to supersonic travel, I have never understood how airlines could possibly make money with Boom aircraft. They’re fairly small, so every seat will have to be sold at a large premium. And, you’d need to fill those seats consistently, which would require dense markets where you have enough people who would pop for the premium. You won’t get as many of those premium fliers on Boom as Concorde did, so – again – I question how well this will work economically.
And, then there’s the question that Cranky pondered (very well, I might add) in the article: where can you even fly these? AA has a somewhat limited map of potential candidates. I guess JFK-LHR, leveraging their partnership with BA is a good option. CLT-LHR? Maybe, but it depends on just how much AA needs to charge per seat mile to make this work. But there’s more: what about UA (who also ordered some of these)? Again, not a ton of places to fly them for UA; maybe the usual NY – London/Paris, IAD-LHR/CDG? Yes. But other hubs? From IAH, a lot of the Latin American flying does require crossing the Gulf and/or Caribbean. But, beyond that it’s mostly over land which rules this out as an option. From ORD? Here you’d spend half of your flight over land so why bother? From DEN? Even worse. From SFO? Well, Boom’s range limitation doesn’t allow trans-Pacific which leaved HNL and not much else.
In summary: I just don’t see this going anywhere.
I view the deposit to be more of a “funding research” donation rather than a deposit with the intent to take 20 airplanes. I don’t see AA taking those planes unless the purchase price ends up being surprisingly low – which I don’t see either. So no need to speculate on destinations. Chances of AA ever taking these plans to close to zero
Totally agree. This feels like a R&D spend. If they get a ROI & exclusivity with United then it will be nice. But don’t count on it. The US government/military is also a player here, and this feels like a 2035 before this bird is certified and ready to put passengers on. The military stuff might happen faster but don’t bet on it.
If they wanted to fund research, wouldn’t they have bought a share of the company instead, instead of putting down a non-refundable deposit on a vaporware plane? How much of a deposit was it actually?
Forbes (or their online company) had a very sarcastic take on this. Their answer: not a whole lot.
Regarding supersonic flight over land – Concorde routing from LHR and CDG to IAD and JFK took many flights over Ireland, and the supersonic boom did have a negative effect there, which appeared to be largely accepted by the Irish government / citizenry. It will be interesting to see if this acceptance continues.
The root question is how does any airline see its responsibility to its investors to deliver profits vs. developing markets or technologies that may or may not ever be profitable. American and United have also both embraced the urban air mobility movement that could completely transform airspace over US cities while Delta and Southwest and other US airlines have shown no interest in that movement; urban air mobility is much more of a domestic concept than supersonic travel and also more likely to happen. Delta, IIRC, did support the development of supersonic travel in its first iteration (I believe Boeing’s former proposed supersonic aircraft).
American and United have long had a “follow each other” mindset while other airlines including Delta and Southwest have been much more focused on sticking to what they do well and delivering better profits as a result. If supersonic travel or urban air mobility really become “things,” I doubt if Delta or Southwest or JetBlue will be shut out if there is really money to be made.
In other fleet news, the media is picking up on United’s comments about a potentially mammoth widebody order later this year to replace United’s massive fleet of 777-200/ERs. UAL investors might need to sit with their heads between their knees when UAL announces how much it will spend for 100 or more widebodies on top of its United Next spending but the interesting part is that Scott Kirby is saying the order could be an all or nothing order for either the A350 or the B787 families. Those aircraft are proven and will serve routes that United knows but is there an amount of aircraft debt that an airline can take on that pushes it over the edge? The investor press for years has lambasted American for its high debt levels as a result of its huge fleet spending that spanned 10 years even while AAL was not very profitable and yet United reported a lower profit margin than United in the most recent quarter. UAL’s aircraft expenditures will be far higher than AAL ever spent in a year just for Next. The fact that UAL will lease these aircraft doesn’t change the discussion because leases do show up on the balance sheet.
Lots to think about regarding airline spending.
It all depends on the timeline for the purchases. If UAL spreads out accepting the widebodies over say 15 years, that would not negatively affect its balance sheet and it might be able to cashflow a lot of the new equipment.
I really hope Boom is successful, and we do see the new plane in a decade or so. I would love to fly on it, since I missed any opportunity I had with the Concorde.
All dreaming aside…. Brett, I would love to see your analysis of possible United routes with this plane, since they were the first US carrier to order it. Based on your American analysis above, I would say…
* San Francisco not likely to have any flights to Asia, if American can’t make Seattle work
* Denver, Houston and Chicago (mid-continent) hubs are out, since too much flight time to an ocean prior to the ‘boom’
* That leaves Newark, which could also pick up on the huge London / Euro (business center) airports – I would expect to see at least Frankfurt and Munich, as Star connecting hubs, and perhaps Paris, Milan, Geneva, Zurich, and ??
If I had to guess, AA/UA are planning on the 65-pax config, which will allow for a bit more range, all-biz. AA would be MIA-LHR/MAD, SEA-HND (even if payload restricted), LAX-HNL-HND, PHL-LHR/MAD, CLT-LHR 1x/day.
JFK-LHR? Let’s say that AA can fill every business + first class seat they plus BA sell on the route today if they put Boom jets on the route (so, able to pull traffic from VS/DL and can induce demand). That’s 10x/day. But due to time zones some existing widebody timings wouldn’t work. You aren’t going to leave JFK later than 11pm, and you aren’t going to get into LHR before 6am. When you add in time zones you’re looking at a “8 hour” flight (assuming Boom aircraft get priority). So your optimal flight timings would look more like US transcons.
Maybe that turns out to be 8a-4p, 9-5, 10-6, 11-7, noon-8, 1-9, 2-10, 3-11p, then a single redeye 10:30p-6:30a.
In the reverse direction, net of time zones you’d wind up with arrival times a half hour earlier than departure times. Assuming an hour turn, the same planes could run 5-4:30p, 6-5:30, 7-6:30, 8-7:30, 9-8:30, 10-9:30, then overnight the last three aircraft to run 9:30a-9a, 11:00a-10:30a, 1p-12:30p flights.
Thing is, that only gets you two turns per day per plane, at least on this route, since for the eastbound flights you wind up with some timing issues. At which point you might as well slip in some shuttle runs to DCA. Could even do same-plane service DCA-JFK-LHR in about the time it’d take for a nonstop from IAD.
But hey, that covers eight out of the 20 planes.
UA could do something similar from EWR (and JFK for that matter), albeit at lower frequency. IAD would be maybe 1-2x/day.
I vote for a DCA shuttle run!
You forgot about one thing – “to big to fail.” Whatever happens the airlines will get a bailout when their leverage gets out of hand & the companies blow through $$$ just to survive.
I’m not so sure that companies will be repeatedly bailed out when their decisions alone are the reason they struggle financially. Covid and 9/11 were major events that affected the entire US economy; those types of events will very likely happen again and the government will have to bail out some parts of the economy. I think most people realize that the airline industry got too much money without enough controls during covid.
There are societal implications of having some people or parts of society living very large at the expense of the general populace; think the French Revolution
I don’t know what would happen if 2 out of the big 4 or even one of them was in a dire enough situation that service would be impacted but I do believe there is and will be a different enough financial outcome for different airlines within the US that a one size fits all strategy can’t be applied again without some major backlash. During the early weeks of covid, Delta and Southwest were able to pull down billions of dollars in credit they had established pre-covid as soon as markets themselves became open to lending due to federal help. All of the CEOs went clamoring to the feds for money but there would have been a very different outcome if the last two rounds of covid airline bailouts hadn’t happened.
Delta and Southwest are ordering billions of dollars of airplanes as well – they just are generating profits large enough so that there balance sheets will improve over the next couple years… and American says they will pay down debt as they slow spending.
Not sure where this will all end up but if AA and UA bet on costly new ventures and have much worse finances while DL and WN do not and end up much better, I would strongly bet the conversation will be different in a few years.
Yes, along those lines I read that Southwest is paying back $1.2 billion of debt at 4.75% interest about a year early. That’s a significant savings of interest. Seems like they are using their fuel hedging gains to pay down debt. It will be interesting to see if future profits will are used primarily to eliminate debt or to repurchase shares.
Delta just bought back $1.5 billion in debt that was due between 2023-2027.
Smart move. What’s going on with the SkyMiles credit card? Is Delta trying to bring that entirely back in-house?
A supersonic RJ. How quaint!
Sometimes, I really feel that everything that was old is new again:
…I wonder just how relevant the arguments of old Mr. Davies still are…
It’s true. Without solving the sonic boom problem and having a longer range, Boom seems like an academic exercise to recreate something that was already created 50-60 years ago. That sounds, well, insane.
I just realized that the company itself is named after the very thing that provides the greatest impediment to widespread supersonic air travel. The very thing this company set out to eliminate.
As Homer Simpson would say, “D’oh!”
Sorry but the announcement of the order has been a staged PR event that is designed to attract attention to AA and Boom.
The plane is vaporware and the deposit is small enough for AA to classify it as an advertising expense.
Has no one noticed the unquestioned publication of this press release in all the various pubs larding up one’s news feed?
This is a publicity event. There is no plane and scant expectation of one for some of the reasons noted in the article.
Commenting on the plane is pointless. There will be no plane but AA will enjoy teasing the public for a while.
Boom: the Theranos of planes
lol yeah but at least the Boom CEO isn’t claiming to have a fully operational one in the hangar
I guess it would be competing against A321LR/XLR at United, American & Delta.
With 80 passengers these would offer space, real sleeper seats, quietness and a few hours extra to take a meal, do a nap crossing time zones.
And burn 50% less, cost 80% less meet all noise requirements and are certified available yesterday.
Make ticket price also 50% lower than a Boom & see what happens.
AA A321 First:
The Boom aircraft is starting to sound like another Concorde as far as performance goes. We’ll see…