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Innovative airline plans to return 'supersonic speeds' to aviation industry

United Airlines are flexing their innovation muscles after announcing big ambitions to “return supersonic speeds to aviation” in 2029, with plans to purchase 15 new supersonic airliners.

Supersonic flights, where the aircraft travels faster than the speed of sound, was thought to have been firmly put into retirement after Air France and British Airways ended Concorde flights in 2003. However, passengers may soon have the opportunity to once again fly to destinations at a super-fast rate if United’s plans come to fruition. 

Safety standards must be met by the new supersonic aircraft, Overture, and only then will United’s deal be sealed. 

The deal is still very much up in the air as Denver-based company, Boom, who will produce Overture, is yet to flight-test a supersonic jet.

Overture is expected to reach speeds of 1,122mph (1,805km/h) - also known as Mach 1.7, whilst a typical passenger jet cruises at about 560mph (900km/h).

Concorde comes up a little faster with a maximum speed of Mach 2.04 - about 1,350mph (2180km/h).

Boom has revealed Overture would be able to complete the London-New York transatlantic flight in just 3.5 hours, which would reduce the standard flight time by 3 hours.

The world is, of course, a different place than it was in 2003. With the effects of climate change adding pressure for industries to be more sustainable, including the motor industry which aims to be emission-free in a decade, is supersonic flight something the aviation industry should return to?

Boom plans to run Overture entirely on sustainable aviation fuel (Saf). This would see fuel being made out of everything from waste animal fat from the farming industry to specially grown high-energy crops. 

However, Dr Guy Gratton, associate professor of aviation and the environment at Cranfield University, says that "the world is very far from having anything like the production capacity needed" to produce enough biofuel to fuel the entire aviation industry.

“Power-to-liquid" processes - where renewable energy such as wind power is used to produce liquid fuel - will make up for the shortage, Boom has said.

When it comes to profitability, Concorde was said to be profitable for British Airways even though there were enormous costs to Concorde’s development. 

It was always seen as a luxurious way to travel but the wealthy travelers who could afford a Concorde ticket may now well be travelling by private jet, according to Dr Gratton.

Boom has conducted research which suggests passengers wanted speed and that faster planes could "deepen human connections and make better business relationships".

The company expects Overture to be profitable for airlines even if tickets are sold for the same price as a "regular business-class fare".

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Source: The BBC