American Airlines Makes Big Bet on the Future

American Airlines has agreed to buy 20 Boom Supersonic Overture passenger jets, which are expected to carry passengers at twice the speeds of conventional passenger aircraft. The amount of money exchanging hands was not disclosed, but American said the deposit on the 20 initial aircraft was nonrefundable. That agreement, though, is still subject to change depending on the outcome of American’s safety testing and Boom’s ability to deliver on its promises despite never having built or flown a full-scale supersonic jet before.

If Boom’s Overture jets pass inspection, the plan is for them to be rolled out in 2025, fly in 2026, and are expected to carry passengers by 2029. At that point, Boom claims its supersonic jets will eventually be able to travel from New York to London in just 3.5 hours or Los Angeles to Sydney in six hours and 45 minutes. Boom has said that tickets could cost as much as $5,000 per seat, but American didn’t reveal any information about pricing.

However, many experts have questioned whether supersonic jets are likely to make a return. Boom is developing a jet called the Overture that the company says will be able to carry 65 to 80 passengers at nearly twice the speed of sound. But the jet is still in the early stages of development. Boom recently unveiled a "refined' version of the aircraft, which it said has completed some wind tunnel tests. It has yet to conduct a test flight, however, and the first production vehicles aren't expected to roll off the line until 2025, according to a press release.


The Overture is reminiscent of the Concorde, the ultra-quick — and exceedingly pricey — jet that shuttled people across the Atlantic Ocean for as much as $10,000 a seat. The Concorde, notably, was taken out of service in 2003 because the economics simply didn't work. The fuel-guzzling jet was too noisy to fly over land because its high speeds would generate deafening sonic booms, relegating it to trips across the ocean, like its popular London to New York City route.


But foreign regulators and the US Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates commercial airlines, will have to approve the jets first. And it's not clear when or if that will happen. After the economic failure of the Concorde, both airlines and aircraft makers have generally concentrated on greater efficiency, not speed. Boeing, for example, ditched its plans for a near-supersonic jet, the Sonic Cruiser, in the early 2000s and shifted its focus to developing a lightweight, fuel-efficient jumbo jet, the 787 Dreamliner. 


The US government, however, has shown interest in reviving supersonic jets. The FAA states on its website that it's currently working to establish new rules of the road for such aircraft, including allowable noise levels over land. And NASA has put money into developing a "quiet" supersonic jet, called the X-59, in the hopes of passing that tech on to the commercial sector. But even the first prototype has yet to take flight, with the first test not expected until later this year.