American Airlines deposits 20 supersonic aircraft manufactured in North Carolina

DENVER (AP) — American Airlines has agreed to buy up to 20 supersonic jets that are made in North Carolina — and post a non-refundable deposit for the planes that are still on the drawing board and years away from flying.

Neither American nor manufacturer Boom Supersonic would provide any financial details Tuesday, including the amount of American’s investment.

American, which has also taken options for 40 more Boom Overture aircraft, will become Boom’s second US customer after a similar announcement by United Airlines last year for 15 jets.

Almost 20 years have passed since the last supersonic passenger flight by the Anglo-French Concorde, which failed to take off due to the high costs – for both the passengers and the airlines.

Boom CEO Blake Scholl insists his company’s plane will be different when it debuts in 2029, with tickets costing around $4,000-$5,000 to fly from New York to London in about three and a half hours .

“There are tens of millions of passengers each year who fly business class on routes where Overture will bring great acceleration,” Scholl said in an interview, “and airlines will be able to do so profitably.”

Boom says his plane will have a top speed of 1.7 times the speed of sound, or about 1,300 miles per hour, and carry between 65 and 80 passengers.

Skeptics have questioned Boom’s ambitious timeline, especially given the many years it’s taken Boeing, an established manufacturer, to get or even retrofit planes approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Notably, Boom hasn’t lined up an engine maker yet. It talks to Rolls Royce and others.

“With a supersonic jet, you don’t design an airplane, you design an engine first,” says Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst at consulting firm AeroDynamic Advisory. “This is just a collection of freehand drawings until this engine happens.”

According to Boom, the plane will fly entirely on sustainable aviation fuel, often made from plant material that is currently scarce and very expensive.

Boom, which is based in Denver and plans to build the Overture in North Carolina, says the program will cost between $6 billion and $8 billion. The plane has a list price of $200 million, though other manufacturers routinely give airlines deep discounts.

Last month, Boom announced changes to the plane’s design to make it easier and cheaper to build and maintain. The most notable change was the change from three engines, including a different type at the stern, to four identical engines under the delta-shaped wings.

The market for four-engine aircraft is shrinking. The Boeing 747 is now primarily used to transport cargo, and Airbus ended production of the A380 in 2021. The vast majority of passenger aircraft flying today have two engines.

Four-engine planes “are so much worse in every way, from economy to emissions,” Aboulafia said. “No one wants more engines, the answer is fewer engines.”

While American and United have said they will buy Boom’s plane, Delta Air Lines, the other major US airline that could use it on long international flights, is unwilling to join them.

“I still have a lot more questions than answers,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said on Fox Business on Tuesday. “As long as we are not sure that we can actually achieve a reliable return with the aircraft, we will not invest.”

American Airlines said the supersonic plane will change travel.

“Looking ahead, supersonic flying will be an important part of our ability to serve our customers,” said Derek Kerr, the airline’s chief financial officer.

The union, which represents American pilots, questioned the timing of the airline’s investment in planes that, at best, will not be available in several years. American has been struggling this summer, having canceled more than 9,300 flights since June 1, according to FlightAware — more than double that of United, Delta or Southwest.

“Investing in today’s operations should be management’s sole focus,” said Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the union. “Unless there are management changes to the scheduling of this airline and its pilots, these will just be supersonic cancellations.”

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. American Airlines deposits 20 supersonic aircraft manufactured in North Carolina

Laura Coffey

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