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United Airlines buys 15 supersonic aircraft in big investment in fast travel

The aircraft will reportedly cut most global travel times in half

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Photo (c) jpgfactory - Getty Images
Nearly 20 years after the Concorde was retired, United Airlines has decided that it’s time to bring back supersonic flight. 

In a deal with Boom Supersonic, United went all-in on Wednesday when it purchased 15 of Boom’s new “Overture” aircraft that will cut international travel time by nearly half. The planes could cut trips from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia to 8.5 hours from 14.5 hours, and a flight from New York to London could take 3.5 hours instead of 6.5 hours. 

A sustainable future

We’ll have to wait at least until 2026 before we’ll see if United’s bet was well-placed, but the company has a chance to chalk up an impressive environmental benchmark once Overture is operational. The planes would become the first large commercial aircraft to be net-zero carbon from day one, optimized to run on 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). 

"United continues on its trajectory to build a more innovative, sustainable airline and today's advancements in technology are making it more viable for that to include supersonic planes. Boom's vision for the future of commercial aviation, combined with the industry's most robust route network in the world, will give business and leisure travelers access to a stellar flight experience," said United CEO Scott Kirby. "Our mission has always been about connecting people and now working with Boom, we'll be able to do that on an even greater scale."

With a price point closer to Business Class than Coach to maximize the revenue from a more limited 55 seats, flying on an Overture probably won’t be affordable to the mass market. Kirby and United appear to be okay with that. Company officials think that catering to business travelers’ need for working space and technology has so much potential upside that it committed to buying up to 35 additional jets in the deal it cut with Boom.

United will be in good company

While United may be the first major commercial U.S. airline to ink a deal with Boom, it’s not the first to do so globally. In 2017, Japan Airlines committed to buying up to 20 of Boom’s supersonic aircraft.

The U.S Air Force is also in on the Overture action. Brigadier General Ryan Britton said the USAF thinks Overture might be a technological opportunity “to disrupt the balance of our adversaries” and could allow diplomats and leaders to connect more frequently in person.

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