Supersonic passenger travel given major boost by United Airlines

Boom Supersonic's Overture aircraft.
Boom Supersonic/United

The return of supersonic passenger travel took a significant step forward this week when United Airlines announced plans to purchase 15 aircraft from Boom Supersonic.

The agreement between the two companies would see United purchase 15 of Boom’s under-development Overture aircraft, as long as the high-speed jet meets special safety, operation and stability requirements. United, which has the option of purchasing another 35 Overture aircraft at a later date, wants to put the plane into commercial service in 2029.

Introducing the United Supersonic Fleet.@ United Will buy up to 50 Overture airliners and fly the fleet on 100% sustainable aviation fuel. #boomsupersonic

— boom supersonic (@boomaero) 3 June 2021

Colorado-based Boom hasn’t built a working version of the Overture just yet, though last October it unveiled a smaller prototype called the XB-1 that’s set to make its first flight later this year.

The Overture is designed to carry up to 75 passengers and fly at a speed of Mach-1.7. That’s just 1300 mph, or twice the speed of the fastest planes today.

This means Overture will be able to fly from Newark to London in three-and-a-half hours, Newark to Frankfurt in four hours, and San Francisco to Tokyo in six hours – a reduction in normal travel time in some cases in half.

Considering the impact of air travel on the environment, BOOM aims to make Overture the first large commercial aircraft that is net-zero carbon, optimized to run on 100% sustainable aviation fuel.

“A Stellar Flight Experience”

United CEO Scott Kirby said, “United continues on its trajectory to build a more innovative, sustainable airline and today’s advances in technology are making it more feasible to incorporate supersonic aircraft.” said As part of this week’s announcement. “BOOM’s vision for the future of commercial aviation, with the industry’s strongest route network in the world, will give business and leisure travelers access to an immersive flying experience.”

Blake Shawl, founder and CEO of Boom Supersonic, said the two companies share a common purpose “to unite the world safely and sustainably.” “At twice as fast, United travelers will experience all the benefits of life individually, from deeper, more productive business relationships to more comfortable vacations to far-flung destinations,” Sholl said.

United isn’t the first major carrier to show interest in Boom’s technology, with Japan Airlines and the UK’s Virgin Group already signing deals for a total of 30 Overture jets.

With this latest deal, Boom is poised to launch the first supersonic passenger service since Concorde’s last commercial flight in 2003, but the path to the next generation of supersonic aircraft is likely to be limited. This is because many countries have banned jet planes from flying faster than the speed of sound to prevent a disruptive sonic boom. In other words, overture may be limited to coastal airports, with flights going across the ocean rather than inland.

Ticket prices can also be out of reach for many travelers. While airlines will have the final say, BOOM says it expects carriers to be able to offer fares at business-class prices – much higher than seats in coach.

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