The roar of supersonic engines could become a familiar noise again at airports around the world in the 2020s – at a much lower cost to airlines and passengers than previously.

More than a decade after British Airways and Air France retired their Concorde fleets following a series of incidents, including a crash that killed 113 people, US aviation start-up Boom Technologies has unveiled a scale prototype of a new supersonic passenger jet.

 Supersonic Jet Boom 2
Image: Boom Supersonic

The new aircraft is set to make supersonic travel more economical for airlines and less costly for passengers. This will be critical in terms of making the comeback of high-speed air travel a commercial success.

Although Concorde still captures the public’s imagination to this day, airlines were left disenchanted with supersonic flight when the fleet was retired in 2003. The aircraft’s fuel consumption meant high operating costs, resulting in eye-watering fares and empty seats.

 The retired Air France Concorde number 5 is lowered by cranes onto pylons on the tarmac at the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport, north of Paris October 19, 2005. The retired Concorde is placed on permanent display in an inclined position to simulate the take off of the supersonic passenger jet.
Image: Reuters/Franck Prevel

According to Boom, new technologies, which have only recently been approved by aviation regulators, mean that the prohibitive costs associated with supersonic travel can be brought down significantly. The company claims that this will enable it to operate profitably while charging fares comparable to business class in a normal airliner.

The scale prototype, and the yet-to-be-built Boom passenger aircraft, are set to reach speeds up to Mach 2.2, which is more than twice the speed of sound and 2.6 times faster than a typical commercial airliner. This means that it will take the Boom three hours and 15 minutes rather than the standard seven hours to fly its 45 passengers from New York to London, faster than even Concorde.

 Leave New York at 6am, make afternoon and dinner meetings in London, and be home to tuck your kids into bed.
Image: Boom Supersonic

For passengers, the $5,000 price tag for a return trip between New York and London may still seem steep, despite the time saving. However, Boom Technologies’ stated aim is to reduce operating costs even further and make flights more affordable still.

The start-up has attracted a lot of attention in the aviation industry. It is backed by entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson and is working with established suppliers such as Honeywell and General Electric to achieve its goal of democratizing supersonic travel.

With the scale model’s maiden flight scheduled for 2017, Boom Technologies expects the first tranche of its next-generation supersonic passenger aircraft to take to the skies in the next decade or so.