Last week American announced it had placed an order for 20 of the Boom Overture supersonic airplanes. It even paid real money for a deposit. On top of that, it has another 40 on option. That is a lot of supersonic airplane right there, so it made me wonder… what the heck would American do with all those airplanes?
The Boom Overture is, in theory, going to carry 65 to 80 passengers at speeds of up to Mach 1.7. The configuration has changed over the years, but that’s the current plan. The hope is to roll the airplane out in 2025 and have it carrying passengers by 2029. That is wildly optimistic consdering that the engine doesn’t exist to power this airplane today and Boom hasn’t certified an airplane before.
But let’s not worry about any of those details, and let’s pretend that this airplane is flying people in less than a decade. What I want to know is where those airplanes will fly.
Boom says that the airplane has a range of 4,250nm. Manufacturers always overstate range to a level beyond what airlines will actually operate. So, let’s give it a 10 percent haircut and call it 3,825nm as the actual range. (I should put “actual” in quotes since again, there is no engine yet.) Maybe it’s more flying eastbound, but with those winter westbound winds, this seems like a safer bet.
The ability to suppress the sonic boom on airplanes traveling faster than the speed of sound is not a part of this plan, so for American’s biggest hub at Dallas/Fort Worth, this airplane is likely a non-starter. It has to go too slow for too long to get to the coastline before it can turn on the jets. I don’t see a use for it there.
Over the Pacific, well, that’s also not really going to work. American did tout in its press release that it could reduce the flight time from LA to Honolulu to 3 hours. And to that I say… who cares? That means an 8am departure would get to Honolulu at 8am instead of 10:30am (at least when LA is on daylight saving time). Does anyone really need that kind of gain? No, they don’t. And they won’t be willing to pay extra for that. I hope American has better ideas than that.
From LA, that really is the only option. Take a look at this map from Great Circle Mapper showing 3,825nm from LAX.
So, uh, Anchorage? Lima? Those aren’t exactly high fare markets. But remember, American is ditching its Pacific gateway in LA anyway, so maybe it can use that Alaska hub in Seattle to help feed these flights. Or maybe not. It’s 4,174nm from Seattle to Tokyo/Haneda. Under the current specs, that’s pushing it. Maybe eventually more range will be squeezed out, but as of now, this isn’t a reliable Pacific airplane.
It’s also not a South American airplane. You need to fly over land (or around it) for far too long to get to the important business cities. This really is more of a Europe airplane the way it’s being pitched today.
In the press release, the other market American mentioned is Miami – London which can be flown in 5 hours. Ok, I’ll buy it. This sounds like a legitimate market with premium demand that could work. Great, that’s one. What else?
There isn’t much else here. Maybe you can push into Paris, but beyond that, I’m not sure which big markets would support service like this.
Charlotte has similar opportunities and isn’t too far from the coast, but is Charlotte really big enough to support this kind of flying? It doesn’t have a huge amount of local traffic, but this also isn’t a huge airplane. Maybe a London flight works.
You can do the same thing for Philly and JFK if you’d like. London works. Maybe Madrid can work with the Iberia hub there. And Paris could be an option. At JFK in particular, American might see this as an opportunity to move into new markets and leapfrog Delta. After all, Delta doesn’t seem particularly interested in this airplane. It is also rightly skeptical about whether it will ever be delivered anyway. But if American is right, it would have the advantage.
Even with these potential markets, remember we are talking about 20 airplanes to start. That is a LOT of airplanes. And since they fly so fast, they can easily do two or three flights a day.
So, do I see any opportunity with a functioning supersonic aircraft? Sure, if it can be built and delivered with the right specs. But I just don’t know that I see THAT many airplanes worth of opportunity, at least not with the specs as currently offered.