Boom! Supersonic passenger planes may return to the skies

Boom in flight
Promo image Boom in flight

Because “the pursuit of speed is a moral imperative.”

Why, it seems like only yesterday that TreeHugger Sami was telling us that greener aviation was on its way with electric flight. But on that same day, at the Farnborough Airshow where all the big announcements are made, Boom Supersonic announced that it is building a supersonic jet that will cut trip times in half. Blake Scholl, Boom founder, touts the concept while at a museum housing a Concorde:

"Today... the world is more linked than it's ever been before and the need for improved human connection has never been greater," Scholl said…."Our vision is to build a faster airplane that is accessible to more and more people, to anybody who flies."

The company is backed with investments from Richard Branson and Japan Airlines, and hopes to be flying by the mid 2020s. Boom (perhaps an unfortunate choice of name, given how booms were one of the big problems with the Concorde) has designed a plane with 55 seats, much smaller than the Concorde because the ultra-rich market can only fill so many of the big luxurious seats. And as far as the boom goes, they plan on being “30 times quieter than the Concorde.”

They also claim that their planes with have a fuel efficiency per seat comparable to current business class flights in subsonic planes.

Fuel efficiency and operating costs go hand in hand. Since our aircraft has the same fuel burn as subsonic business class, it also has the same fuel consumption and emissions profile. We are relentlessly innovating toward lower fares—which will mean further reductions in fuel consumption and emissions.

They also try to make the point that, hey, travel is good for the planet.

While it is important to preserve mankind’s ability to flourish on our planet, it is also important to extend that ability. A key part of this flourishing, in our view, is supersonic travel. We look forward to working with innovators and scientists around the world to ensure that the future is both green and supersonic.

In their blog, Blake Scholl actually claims that “the pursuit of ever-faster travel speed is really a moral imperative. Supersonic flight offers the world a deeper form of human connection, just as earlier airplanes and trains and steamships once did.” He also makes the claim that it won’t increase carbon emissions.

plane interiorBoom/Promo image

Crucially, the supersonic renaissance we are spearheading will happen with no net increase in carbon emissions. For one, lavish and wasteful premium subsonic features like first-class suites will become unnecessary when flights take half the time. Removing these extravagances saves weight and floor space and therefore reduces fuel burn.

fuel consumption© ICCT

Others are not impressed, and have made their own calculations of SST (Supersonic Transport) fuel consumption as being far greater than business class. The International Council on Clean Transportation writes:

On average, the modeled SST was estimated to burn 5 to 7 times as much fuel per passenger as subsonic aircraft on representative routes. Results varied by seating class, configuration, and route. In the best-case scenario, the modeled SST burned 3 times as much fuel per business-class passenger relative to recently certificated subsonic aircraft; in the worst case, it burned 9 times as much fuel compared to an economy-class passenger on a subsonic flight.

Boom at nightBoom/Promo image

It’s hard to have a discussion about this with such wildly divergent scenarios. But even if we take Boom at its word about fuel efficiency, flying business class or even economy is problematic even as planes get more efficient. Besides, think of the benefits to everyone. Boom tells such a heart-warming story about the benefits of supersonic travel:

At subsonic speeds, there are some destinations that are too far away for regular travel. But at Mach 2.2, an entrepreneur in Sydney can enjoy a much wider, more global audience for his innovations. The despair of long distance won’t weigh as heavily on a Parisian who finds the love of his life in Montreal. And an American completing her residency in London can see her parents in Chicago more than once or twice each year.

Really, let’s produce business-class levels of CO2 for weekends in Montreal. The world is a better place because of this! Seriously, supersonic flight at super-expensive business class prices is not a moral imperative; it is the exact opposite, contributing to an immoral climate disaster. Who writes this stuff?

Related Content on Treehugger.com