Flights at Twice the Speed Are Coming

American Airlines has agreed to purchase 20 supersonic jets from aerospace company Boom Supersonic.

Boom Overture jet

Boom Supersonic’s Overture jets will fly at twice the speed of today’s fastest commercial planes.

Courtesy of Boom Supersonic

American Airlines this week became the second major U.S. carrier to put in an order for high-speed Overture aircraft with Denver-based aerospace company Boom Supersonic.

Following a similar move from United Airlines last year, American has agreed to purchase up to 20 of the Overture planes, with an option to purchase an additional 40. In 2021, United committed $3 billion for 15 of Boom’s Overture airliners with an option to buy an additional 35 planes once they’re built—for a total of 50. American has paid a nonrefundable deposit on the initial 20 aircraft.

Boom Supersonic’s Overture jets—which first debuted as concept drawings and wooden mock-ups in 2016—promise speeds of Mach 1.7, or 1,300 miles per hour, which is twice the speed of today’s fastest commercial planes. Flying at 60,000 feet, double that of today’s commercial aircraft, the 65 to 80 passengers aboard each plane will get curving views of the globe below. (Because the jets fly so much higher up, passengers can literally see the curvature of the Earth.)

The result will be greatly reduced flying times—San Francisco to Tokyo in less than six hours (versus the current average of 10), New York City to London in only three (compared to the approximately six hours it takes now), or three hours from Los Angeles to Honolulu (versus up to six hours now). Overture is being designed so that it can service more than 600 global routes with a range of up to 4,890 miles.

Under the terms of the agreement, Boom must meet performance and safety requirements prior to the delivery of any Overtures. And then it must also obtain certification from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)—it’s currently illegal to fly a commercial plane over Mach 1 in the United States. Provided the necessary standards and requirements are met, the first Boom Overture aircraft are expected to be built by 2025 and carry their first passengers by 2029.

When the Boom Overture jets do launch, it won’t be the first time commercial passengers will get to experience supersonic flight. Developed in the 1970s, the Concorde was the world’s first and only commercial supersonic plane at the time, crisscrossing the Atlantic at record rates. It officially retired in 2003 after the tragic crash of Air France Flight 459 in July 2000 and prohibitively expensive operation costs.

But Boom founder and CEO Blake Scholl has said that one big difference between the Concorde and his company’s supersonic aircraft is that Boom is building with an eye toward ultimately making high-speed air travel available to the masses. Scholl’s vision for Boom is supersonic travel that is “affordable for passengers, profitable for airlines, and capable of reaching economies of scale with tens of millions of passengers.”

In addition to United and American making a pact with Boom, the Virgin Group and Japan Airlines preordered their own supersonic, all-business-class jets in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

As for the environmental impact, Boom has committed to operating on 100-percent sustainable aviation fuel—jet fuel produced from sustainable sources such as plant oils, municipal waste, and agricultural residue that generates up to 80 percent fewer carbon emissions than conventional fossil fuel–based jet fuel.

Jenny Adams contributed reporting.

Michelle Baran is the senior travel news editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, pandemic coverage, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.