Founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways Richard Branson Hopes Supersonic Jet Travel Will Soon Return
David Royse | LedeTree
We’re traveling faster on trains. We’re considering hyperloops. But a flight across the country or the Atlantic is basically similar to the same flight a decade or two ago.
Branson hopes that’s going to change soon.
“The next big thing, hopefully in my lifetime, will be supersonic travel coming back and people travelling around the world in next to no time,” Branson said this week on Bloomberg TV.
Branson’s interest in supersonic jet travel isn’t new. Virgin is working with Denver-based Boom Supersonic on the project, and last summer promised the airline would soon cut the normal 15-hour Los Angeles to Sydney flight by more than half. The same would be true for trans-Atlantic travel, with New York to London flights in under four hours. Branson and Boom unveiled a prototype back in 2016.
Things have progressed nicely since then, and Boom announced a couple months ago that it is partnering with Japan Airlines to bring Mach 2.2 travel to passengers. JAL has invested $10 million in the project, and has a pre-order agreement to purchase up to 20 of the aircraft. The company hasn’t made a public announcement of when the plane might actually be flying customers.
“Long flights are a barrier to travel,” Boom says on its website. “We’re removing that barrier, turning 8-hour redeyes into 3-4-hour daytime flights. Excruciating 16-hour journeys become easy overnights.”
We’ve had supersonic air travel before, but it was pretty much only for the super rich. The Concorde supersonic jets were flown by British Airways and Air France from 1976 to 2003 before the last one was retired. They flew at twice the speed of sound, with flights from New York and Washington to London and Paris taking about half the time of conventional airlines. But the price for flying on Concordes could be as much as 30 times the typical airfare.
Backers say the new versions could fly cheaper, because of lighter materials.
Branson is also involved in Hyperloop One, a land-based travel system using train-like cars moving in tubes, which Virgin acquired a stake in last year.