Flight Plan

Boom ... supersonic aviation is all set to make a comeback

Mirza Mohammed Ali Khan | Updated on March 20, 2018 Published on March 20, 2018

 

When billionaire aviation mogul Richard Branson makes a prediction about what the future of the aviation industry is going to be, it is bound to be taken note of. And when it isn’t just a prediction but is backed by a partnership with Branson’s Virgin Galactic, you know it could well be the next big thing to watch out for.

Virgin Galactic has partnered with US-based start-up, Boom Supersonic, which is in the process of developing a Mach 2.2-capable (over twice the speed of sound) supersonic jet. The company is currently building a two-seat demonstrator that will “refine our design and engineering, test key supersonic technologies, and ensure efficiency, safety, and reliability”, according to its website.

Boom claims that the demonstrator aircraft, the XB-1, will be the fastest civil aircraft as civil aviation is yet to touch Mach 2.2. To put that in perspective, that’s a speed of 2,716.56 kmph, which can cut travel time between London and New York to a little over three hours. It currently takes about seven hours to fly between the two cities. When contacted, Boom told BusinessLine that it is currently busy with preparations for its test flight, which is expected later this year.

The full-sized, 55-seater supersonic aircraft for commercial aviation, could be ready as early as 2025. Earlier reports had claimed that five unnamed airlines are interested in purchasing 76 planes. Boom has confirmed that Virgin Galactic and Japan Airlines will operate these aircraft, with Japan Airlines investing $10 million in Boom Supersonic. The airline has options to buy 20 aircraft from Boom as part of the agreement.

The plane will have one business-class standard seat on either side of the aisle so each passenger gets window and aisle access. Ticket cost speculations currently hover around the $2,500 mark.

A limited market?

However, some experts, like Kapil Kaul, CEO, Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA), are of the opinion that there is a limited market for supersonic jets. “Limited in the sense — you can do trans-Atlantic, you can do North America because there is a cost involved,” he told BusinessLine. “One has to wait and watch. It is a long-term proposition.”

But what could be the silver lining is that behemoths such as NASA have their fingers in the supersonic aviation pie. The space agency received full funding last month from the Trump administration to develop and fly a supersonic aircraft that will reduce sonic boom, or the sound created when an object breaks the sound speed barrier. Loud sonic booms from supersonic aircraft have posed a problem for the aircraft flying over land.

However, no speculation, or analysis of supersonic travel, is complete without a throwback to Concorde, the jet that was synonymous with the term supersonic till 2003, when it was discontinued owing to falling passenger numbers and increasing maintenance costs. It remains to be seen if Boom’s plane can cut down on operational costs and turn into a profitable prospect for airlines that will operate it. What’s the future for supersonic travel for a country like ours? Peeyush Naidu, Partner, Deloitte India, thinks India is a study in contrast. “There are people who can afford to spend lakhs of rupees to go for concerts in Mumbai and Delhi. I am sure they can travel in supersonic jets,” he says. But it is not going to be a large market. It is still fairly price sensitive.”

Published on March 20, 2018

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