Airline Buys Supersonic Planes That Can Halve Flight Times, Reveals When They Will Carry First Passengers
Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images

American Airlines announced on Tuesday that it would purchase 20 Boom Overture supersonic planes capable of flying from Miami, Florida, to London, England, within five hours.

The aircraft, manufactured by startup Boom Supersonic, is capable of flying at Mach 1.7 over water — “twice the speed of today’s fastest commercial aircraft,” according to American Airlines. With a range of 4,250 nautical miles, the planes, expected to roll out in 2025 and carry their first passengers by 2029, can fly over 600 routes in less than half the previous time.

“Looking to the future, supersonic travel will be an important part of our ability to deliver for our customers,” American Airlines Chief Financial Officer Derek Kerr said in a statement. “We are excited about how Boom will shape the future of travel both for our company and our customers.”

In addition to paying nonrefundable deposits for 20 Overture planes, American has the option to buy an additional 40. The planes can carry between 65 and 80 passengers.

Last year, United Airlines became the first entity to forge a commercial agreement with Boom by purchasing 15 aircraft with the option of later buying another 35. Defense contractor Northrop Grumman announced a strategic partnership with Boom last month to create a “supersonic special-mission aircraft” for the United States and its allies.

“Pairing Northrop Grumman’s airborne defense systems integration expertise with Boom’s state-of-the-art Overture supersonic aircraft makes perfect sense,” Northrop Grumman Aeronautics Systems President Tom Jones said. “Together we can ensure military variants of Overture are tailored for missions where advanced system capabilities and speed are critical.”

Boom revealed earlier this year that it would build a plant in Greensboro, North Carolina, to handle the manufacturing of the Overture planes — a move that will add $32.3 billion to the state’s economy over the next two decades.

The airline industry has continued to reel from COVID and the lockdown-induced recession. Although the United States witnessed a flight volume of 6.2 million in 2021, the figure continued to trail a flight volume of 8.1 million in 2019, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Meanwhile, flight cancellations continue to persist as airlines face a pervasive pilot shortage. The United States will lack 12,000 pilots by 2023, even as 14,000 pilots will be forced to leave the workforce over the next five years because of a federal law mandating that airline pilots retire by 65 years old, according to a study by consulting group Oliver Wyman.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) recently proposed the Let Experienced Pilots Fly Act — a bill that would raise the mandatory commercial pilot retirement age from 65 to 67.

“Following the heavy-handed stupidity of government lockdowns, travel demand has naturally skyrocketed. However, Americans are now experiencing flight delays and cancellations on an unacceptable scale due to a worsening pilot shortage,” Roy argued. “A key factor is a government-mandated retirement age that forces out thousands of our most qualified pilots every year.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, however, has responded negatively to a version of the bill from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). “These retirement ages are there for a reason, and the reason is safety. I’m not going to be on board with anything that could compromise safety,” he said. “Now, what’s clearly the case is we need to cultivate, train, and support a new generation of qualified pilots.”

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