The rise and fall of supersonic air travel, which one company is trying to bring back in 2029

  • The UK and France joined forces in 1962 to work on a supersonic airliner – the Concorde.
  • It was operated by British Airways and Air France, but it was grounded in 2003.
  • Now, a company called Boom is hoping to follow the Concorde’s trail by the end of the 2020s.
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Boom Supersonic – a Colorado-based startup – wants to transform the aviation industry by flying passengers from London to New York in about three and a half hours.

But its flagship aircraft, the Overture, won’t be the first commercial aircraft to accomplish when it hits the skies in 2029. More than 40 years ago, two Concordes took off simultaneously on their first commercial flights, from London to Bahrain and from Paris to Rio de Janeiro.

It was a breakthrough moment for the co-developers, the United Kingdom and France, after a competitive 10-year race against the Soviet Union. The Soviet-built Tupolev Tu-144 was the first one to conduct test flights in 1968. Engineers in the US also tried to develop a supersonic plane, but government funding was withdrawn in 1971, leaving the Soviets to go head-to-head with the UK and France. But the Tupolev Tu-144 disappeared from the international stage after it crashed at the Paris Air Show in 1973.

Concorde went on to fly executives, celebrities, and even royalty from New York to its flagship destinations of London and Paris. But high maintenance costs and declining passenger numbers eventually led to a decision to ground the fleet in 2003.

Costs remain a massive barrier against efforts to bring back supersonic planes. While United Airlines said it will purchase 15 of Boom’s Overture planes in a deal worth $US3 ($AU4) billion, another jet developer called Aerion shut down its operations in May after failing to secure enough funds to build the aircraft.