As I have confessed to you in previous entries, I have always loved flying. And I will add to the confession that my family has had the pleasure of being a part of one of the many well-known companies that grace the skies, namely United Airlines through the employment of my mother as a first officer (co-pilot) on their Boeing 777 fleet. While we are of course proud of my mother and her accomplishments as an airline pilot, one thing that has sparked debate within our family is the new fleet of supersonic jets. 15 in all, once approved by the government, they are said to be the most revolutionary advancement in air travel, drastically cutting down travel times and cementing United Airlines fairly in the supersonic age. Now for many who are not familiar with the history of supersonic jets, this advancement in technology may seem like a one-sided argument! Surely, there can’t be anything wrong with the idea! Well unfortunately dear reader, that is where I and the rest of the airline community have our doubts.
We are all quite comfortable with how we travel today. For many, the jet age has been a constant in our lives, from the humble A320 to the gargantuan 747’s it is commonly believed that they have been the standard since the 1960s, but this is not true. In reality, we were actually close to having a supersonic age, much earlier than now, with many international carriers boasting a small fleet of supersonic jets in the ’70s and even up to the early 2000s. Then, like now, the appeal of lover flight times and modernization were appealing not only to companies, but to passengers as well, and many would pay first-class prices for a seat. This is where the first issue arises, as John Strickland writes for Forbes:
“In my view, there is no doubt that there is customer demand for a new supersonic experience. Time-poor senior executives and high net worth individuals would jump at the opportunity to travel supersonically once more. However, I am skeptical that this can generate 80-90 people at a time on a wide variety of regular airline routes, as United proposes, on a day in, day out basis.”
And this is one of the many issues that United could face. Like the concords of the past, most concept art that United has unveiled focuses on the glamour of its old business class, meaning naturally that the 65-88 seats on the famed supersonics will be predominantly limited to those who can afford high-class travel on commercial airlines, which at the moment rests around several thousand dollars. Therefore, if ticket trends post COVID continue to stay where they are, then the trend of the supersonic jet will be reserved, as it was in the past, for the wealthy only, leaving the common family to continue living in the jet age.
Another factor is of course when these new jests will be a reality. With the company creating these new supersonics, claiming that the jet will be carbon neutral, many are breathing a sigh of relief, as some still remember the famously eco-friendly concords. However, the matter still remains that the fuel currently is still unknown, prompting the question: When will these jests be ready to take to the skies? Well, the short answer is 2029, still 8 years off. While relatively short, it still means that during those 9 years it could be possible for the concept to be scrapped entirely.
Finally, there is one more simple matter, experience. As mentioned above, the cabins of these new supersonics are to boast a business class layout, but this is still leaving many to ask: Is cutting flight time in half is worth the step down in comfort? Jennifer Coutts Clay, who was British Airway’s Controller of Corporate Identity when it was operating the SST, has photos of the Concorde interiors in her book, Jetliner Cabins. While not exactly spartan, she describes the environment as similar to today’s premium economy. But what she says is more important than seat size is VIP service and faster movement through the airport on arrival and departure. “Who wants supersonic if we’re going to be stuck at the airport for 3 hours before and 2 hours after and the distress that you get in a normal airport? There is a need for a new handling procedure,”
I love to fly, and I love to speak of the future, however, the message is clear: In order for the supersonic age to come into its own at last, the situations addressed above, as well as those not, must and hopefully will be addressed. As always dear reader: There is always the possibility of a better tomorrow, what can you do to make it a reality?