United Airlines has announced a new contract agreement with Colorado-based aerospace company Boom Supersonic for the purchase of 15 of their brand new ‘Overture’ supersonic aircraft. The contract includes a provision for the option to purchase an additional 35 planes in the coming years.
The announcement comes amid a flurry of United Airlines investments in new, third-party technologies and market-disrupting projects to push forward the otherwise slow-rolling airliner industry.
The Overture aircraft has the ability to move at supersonic speed — up to 1.7 times the speed of sound (or Mach) where permitted — cutting travel time for international flights by up to 50 percent. For example, Newark International Airport and London’s Heathrow Airport can be reached in a shockingly short three and a half hours, down from the current average flight time of six and a half hours.
In addition to the commercial agreement’s implication for travel time reduction, Boom Supersonic is hyperfocused on sustainable development and has been a net-zero carbon company since its inception. The Overture will be built to be a net-zero carbon craft from day one, as well.
Its preliminary, non-passenger carrying rollout will begin in 2025, take flight in 2026, and carry passengers by 2029, pending approvals. The Overture aircraft embodies the Denver company’s commitment to cleaner energy alternatives and reduced carbon emissions.
“Once operational, Overture is expected to be the first large commercial aircraft to be net-zero carbon from day one, optimized to run on 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel,” the company said in its June 3, 2021 statement to press.
Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) has risen to the commercial airline space in the past decade, and Boom Supersonic is not holding back with its research efforts to uncover a cleaner path forward for air travel. Unlike conventional jet fuel (also referred to as aviation fuel) made of refined petroleum, SAF is made from sustainable resources like livestock waste oils or other regularly-discarded agricultural byproduct oils. In recent years, experiments with SAF have centered around its compatibility with fossil fuels, in which companies have learned that SAF is a “drop in fuel,” able to supplement traditional aviation fuel for a cleaner burn without being entirely sustainable or net-zero carbon. Over the past few years, Boom has successfully flown their XB-1 aircraft with 80 percent SAF and 20 percent traditional fuel.
Boom is taking their company’s research and development efforts further with the Overture though, using 100 percent SAF to power the 205-foot, 88 passenger aircraft as they soar to 60,000 feet.
Boom Supersonic CEO Blake Scholl said that despite the companies’ vast size differentials and market shares, the two companies are aligned on their missions: “United and Boom share a common purpose—to unite the world safely and sustainably,” the executive wrote.
Notably, the contract and return to a supersonic aircraft marks the most significant airline innovation initiative since the 1976 commercial launch of the Concorde, a British Airways Corporation liner with 2.06 Mach capabilities that was discontinued in 2003 after tragic accidents and a downturn in the airline industry. The Concorde, while groundbreaking in design, was notoriously unaffordable and offered no sustainability initiatives. Boom’s CEO told CNN reporters that the company’s long-term goal is to have fares as low as $100 for a four-hour, supersonic trip.
United Airlines and Boom Supersonic hope to redefine the reality of airline travel, creating a market for more eco-friendly aerospace development. Scholl told the press that the “purchase agreement for net-zero carbon supersonic aircraft marks a significant step toward our mission to create a more accessible world.”