Boeing planning on hypersonic jets for commercial flights, though the Concorde’s memory lingers

A Concorde jet in 2003

Timothy A. Clary | AFP | Getty Images
A Concorde jet in 2003

It sounds like pure fantasy.

Boeing sees the day coming when you board a plane in New York City and land two hours later in Shanghai, China.

“I think in the next decade or two you’re going to see them become a reality,” said Boeing Chairman and CEO Dennis Muilenburg.

Boeing expects hypersonic jets, flying at up to Mach 5, or 3,800 miles per hour, could serve a small but important market of travelers willing to pay a premium to reach far-flung destinations in a fraction of the time it usually takes.

For example, a commercial flight from New York to Shanghai currently takes about 15 hours.

On paper it sounds great. In reality, the costs of operating a hypersonic commercial airplane means it may never get off the ground.

“It’s hard for me to see, at least in the next 15-20 years, that it’s going to be so cost competitive that it’s going to compel the airlines to take a stab at it,” said John Plueger, president and CEO of AirLease Corp.

ALC leases hundreds of commercial airplanes to dozens of airlines around the world. As Plueger points out, airlines are looking almost exclusively for efficiency and turning a profit on their airplanes and the industry has a long memory of the Concorde.

The inability to turn a profit on supersonic flights between the U.S. and Europe is what ultimately killed the Concorde.

British Airways and Air France flew the Concorde for more than 30 years and never made money shuttling a limited number of passengers across the Atlantic in roughly three and half hours.

The Concorde made its last flight in 2003.

Despite the skepticism of supersonic and hypersonic planes being commercially viable, there is a resurgence in interest in ultra-fast airliners.

Colorado-based Boom Technology is meeting with prospective partners and clients here at the Paris Air Show. Boom is developing a 55-seat supersonic jet it hopes to sell to airlines and have in service by early next decade.

As for Boeing’s hypersonic plane, Muilenburg admited the company still has to prove there are enough people around who are willing to pay for an ultra-fast flight to the other half of the world.

“Still work to do on closing the business case to make sense for our customers,” said Muilenburg. “But we see future innovations where you could connect around the world in about two hours.”

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