Article – The Supersonic Future

Supersonic Transport:

Moving From Ambient Thinking To Futurist Planning

On November 15, 2016, the expected and accepted future of intercontinental air transportation got torpedoed.

Not necessarily a surprising event, particularly for the attendees at the 21st Boyd Group International Aviation Forecast Summit last September, where Boom Technologies outlined the next step in air transportation.

Last week, the future started to arrive. Boom Technologies rolled out the full-scale model of its XB-1 supersonic demonstrator. It’s a one-third scale of its planned 45-50 seat Boom Airliner that is well under development.

The concept is a 2.2 Mach intercontinental airliner that will carry what is today front-cabin passengers across the Atlantic and Pacific in less than half the time of current airliners – and do so at fare levels commensurate with today’s business class prices.

The potential viability of the Boom concept was underscored by the range of leading aviation entities in attendance. General Electric, Honeywell, Rolls-Royce, NASA. Everyone was also honored to have the presence of some of the original engineers who actually were on the Concorde project many years ago.

Think of It Like The Front Cabin of A 777 That Flies Supersonic. Unlike the Concorde, the Boom Airliner is not envisioned to be one that will cater only to thin layers of high-roller traffic, paying an astronomical fare. Instead, the Boom Airliner simply will capture existing front-cabin traffic, at ambient premium fare levels.

No, there will not be full-flatbed seats with lush duvets for sweet dreams while crossing the ocean. No double-meal catering.

There won’t be time for these amenities – which are there only because the consumer is trapped in the 777 for eight hours. Lovely, lush, and comfortable. But there are two considerations: first, it costs the airline tens of millions to develop and deliver these amenities, and second, the time in the air allows this “entertainment.”

The Boom Airliner will not inflict the need to have seating that takes up the space of a suburban Japanese garden, and chairs that cost as much as a small tract house in rural Ohio. The need to stock several phases of gourmet food into galleys with the complexity of a McDonalds, will be an expense that also won’t be necessary.

With a just over three hours between New York and London, the service will be more like domestic first class.

The Passenger Segment Already Exists. The Boom Airliner will simply capture the current folks sitting in the front end of 777s, A-330s, and 767s. The premium customer will have two choices – ride an extra three or four hours and get a four-course meal finished off with creame brulee en crute, or be in London to do business three hours earlier.

It’s a no brainer. This airliner is going to change how premium customers fly. It will be a challenge to future airline strategies.

It also means that the intercontinental airlines that are first-to-market with this new airliner, will drain this premium traffic from competitors – regardless of frequent flyer loyalty. And by the way, that first-to-market carrier is already on the horizon: Virgin Atlantic has an option for the first ten Boom Airliners, expected to come off the assembly line starting in 2023.

The Concorde Experience Is Ancient History. And Ancient Technology. It’s understandable that a lot of folks in aviation are commenting that the Boom project is just another pipe dream. After all, they point out, the Concorde was a financial fiasco. In point of fact, this observation regarding the British-French product is entirely accurate.

Here’s fact: next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the roll-out of the Concorde. It didn’t fly for another 18 months, but the fact remains that the airplane against which  some people are measuring the Boom Airliner is approaching senior citizen status.

While Concorde was a techno-marvel for its time, it stands as an example to incredibly closed-minded and poor market planning. In fact, it’s earned a place in a great book titled World’s Greatest Planning Disasters.

The Boom aircraft is different from the Concorde: it is based on solid market vision, solid planning, and solid assumptions. And there is no government hubris involved – which was a major factor in the Concorde program. It’s all about business, not misguided national pride.

Re-Thinking Reheat. In addition, the comment also is made that there is no existing power plant adaptable to the Boom Airliner. Some of the folks parroting this nonsense couldn’t tell the difference between a jet engine and a Studebaker V-8.

One of the key advantages of the Boom Airliner is that it does encompass an existing engine core, and can attain 2.2 Mach without use of an afterburner – also referred to as “reheat” by engineers in the Mother Country. Here’s an ice-breaker conversation starter for the next boring cocktail party: when in afterburner, Concorde burned 78% more fuel, and for all that it gained just 17% more thrust.

So to compare the Boom Airliner to the Concorde is flat ridiculous. To maintain that the Concorde proved “it couldn’t be done” is akin to the folks who probably told Lindbergh not to take off, because so many others had splattered themselves trying to cross the Atlantic.

As an aside, one of BGI’s colleagues, Fred Johnson, was a trained mechanic instructor on the Concorde, when Braniff operated the aircraft in 1978-80. His take on the Concorde was that it was some of the finest examples of the best of 1960s technology.

Point: In September, at the IAFS, the world got a glimpse of the future of intercontinental air travel.

On November 15, it became official: Supersonic is the future.