Will the next decade see the return of Supersonic Passenger Travel?

By Amr Ansari (’22)

From its advent in 1976 to the cessation of its use in 2003, the Concorde was a marvel of both engineering and ingenuity. Transporting passengers at unprecedented speeds for commercial travel, the Concorde was notorious for its spired nose and reputation for a high decibel sonic boom. Even so, service on the aircraft ceased when it became unsustainable for airlines to continue operating them. More than fifteen years after its demise, supersonic passenger jet travel may be in for a comeback.

When tech billionaire Elon Musk proposed his concept of the hyperloop, another futuristic high speed transport solution, he noted that it was ideal for distances of about 900 miles. While faster than any current aircraft used to shuttle passengers, Musk suspected that much faster and more practical jets would be available for longer distances; his conjecture might very well hold true. Boom Technology, for example, is one of many companies developing a supersonic commercial jet, with theirs posed to be able to reach speeds of mach 2.2, or 2.2 times faster than the speed of sound. They claim that they will have aircraft operational in 2029, although this may be delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, they have already found a partner in Japan Airlines, who have an option to purchase twenty aircraft from them. With new technologies, materials, and development techniques, issues with the Concorde such as the sonic boom have been mitigated. 

The implications of supersonic passenger travel are far reaching. Business travelers could take day trips to locations that would previously take a span of several days to reach and return from. With a travel time of around three hours, one could fly between New York City and London, conduct business, and be home in time for bed. Those with extended families on the opposite side of the globe could visit them in substantially less travel time. All in all, supersonic travel on a widespread scale would allow a new level of connectivity and allow us to open a new chapter in globalization.

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