Is there a real need for speed for scheduled passenger airliners?

The latest generation of airliners now allow us to fly much further than we have previously, but should we just be focusing on range? Is their enough of a premium demand to deliver the investments that are required for us to once again look at speed as a business differentiator? One man thinks so, and he has already proved to have an entrepreneurial vision that has turned him into a multi-millionaire.


Summary:

  • Japan Airlines (JAL) makes UD10 million strategic investment in Boom Aerospace to support launch of new supersonic airliner.
  • Japan Airlines (JAL) is only the second named airline to commit to the project after Virgin Atlantic Airways, although at least five airlines are reported to have signed-up to the project.
  • Boom predicts there are over 500 global routes with enough premium traffic for this 55-seater supersonic service.

When it comes to aircraft development the name Blake Scholl does not come immediately to mind, but having made his name founding Amazon’s Automated Advertising team, which grew to became a $300 million business function, before founding Kima Labs, an e-commerce business bought by Groupon.

Now, the qualified pilot, believes there is sufficient business interest to bring back supersonic travel, but unlike those already with plans on the table to fulfil interest in the private aviation sector, Boom Aerospace plans to upscale the idea and deliver an aircraft suitable for commercial airline flying.

After initially securing a commitment from Virgin Group and an unidentified European flag carrier, Boom now has reported commitments for 76 aircraft from five airliners, including what are described as 51 firm orders. In the past week, Japan Airlines (JAL) has been revealed as another potential customer for the supersonic airliner and at the same time becoming a strategic partner in the project.

As part of the agreement, JAL has made a strategic investment of USD10 million in Boom and is collaborating with the company to refine the aircraft design and help define the passenger experience for supersonic travel. It also has the option to purchase up to 20 Boom aircraft through a pre-order arrangement.

The endorsement from Virgin Atlantic gave the project the initially support it required to be taken seriously, but the investment from JAL represents a significant step forward for the project. “We’ve been working with Japan Airlines behind the scenes for over a year now,” confirms Mr Scholl.

You could say JAL has nothing to lose. The investment may appear notable, but is not significant for an airline where USD10 million will not even buy you a regional jet. However, for JAL it gives it a strategic advantage in defining an aircraft, which if built, will see it among the initial operators of the aircraft and a chance to be one step ahead of rivals.

“Through this partnership, we hope to contribute to the future of supersonic travel with the intent of providing more time to our valued passengers while emphasising flight safety,” says Yoshiharu Ueki, president of Japan Airlines.

While all these airline commitments  are likely to be just financial deposits for delivery positions for an aircraft that remains on the drawing board, a deposit for a $200 million aeroplane that still only exits on paper is a lot of money and it does confirm formal interest in a highly ambitious project that could become the ‘Son of Concorde’ and bring back commercial supersonic flying.

IMAGE – Forecast of Routes Most Likely Able to Support Future Supersonic FlightsSource: Boom

Boom predicts there are over 500 global routes with enough premium traffic for this 55-seater supersonic service and an independent analysis from The Boyd Group projects a demand for over 1,300 aircraft in the 2023 to 2032 timeframe. Mr Scholl believes the project makes sound commercial sense and learns from the failings of Concorde before it to deliver a cheaper to operate and more efficient airliner with the necessary economies of scale to deliver sustainable returns. It is clear that if costs can be reduced to a level that brings tickets prices down to a manageable level, then airlines will certainly be interested.

“Airlines are excited for something new and different to offer their passengers – and we’re thrilled that major world airlines share our vision for a future of faster, more accessible supersonic travel,” says Scholl.

The comparisons – both good and bad – with Concorde are obvious, but the Anglo-Franco collaboration did prove successful on a limited number of routes for Air France and British Airways. The issue is that speed does not necessarily do you any favours in commercial flying. Time differences mean that many routes simple do not work at speeds of up to Mach 2.2, or 1,451 mph, limiting where the aircraft can fly.

Whether this remains a dream or the more exciting development in commercial aviation for decades, Boom is pushing ahead with the project. A newly designed scaled-down XB-1 demonstrator named ‘Baby Boom’ was revealed at the Paris Air Show earlier this month and a second version with a reduced 45-seat two-class cabin with an added First Class seating product was unveiled. The test aircraft is set to enter final assembly later this year and will likely fly for the first time in late 2018 and an entry into service in 2023.

So where does Boom think the aircraft will fly and how will its speed deliver benefits to passengers? “Time saved is a life gained,” says Boom. “Long flights are a barrier to travel. We’re removing that barrier, turning 8-hour redeyes into 3-4-hour daytime flights. Excruciating 16-hour journeys become easy overnights.”

The Transatlantic market is an obvious opportunity with the London – New York market frequented by both the Air France and British Airways Concordes certainly among the top destinations. Boom marketing documentations shows that the aircraft would reduce travel times to just 3 hours 15 minutes, cutting journey times by more than a half. Other routes suggested by Boom include San Francisco – Tokyo (reduced from 11 hours to 5 hours 30 minutes) and Los Angeles – Sydney (down from 15 hours to 6 hours 45 minutes).

Boom revealed at the end of Q1 2017 that it had raised an additional $33 million investment in the project bringing total funding to $41 million. Boom will use the new financing to finish development and fabrication of the XB-1 demonstrator and conduct a thorough flight test program including sonic boom testing.