In 10 Years We’ll Be Able to Fly US-London in 3 Hours and to Tokyo in Just 5 Hours

Fourteen years ago frequent flyers took advantage of an amazing deal to fly the Concorde for ~ $1100 roundtrip:

  • Buy 21 subscruptions to Inside Flyer magazine, earning 2500 Starwood points for each purchase
  • Transfer those Starwood points to Qantas at 1:2 (with bonus, 20,000 Starwood points yielded 50,000 Qantas points)
  • Qantas used to let you book Concorde for the same price as British Airways first class. Shortly thereafter Qantas increased the cost of premium cabin awards as much as 92%.

This was after Concorde’s one and only crash in 2000 but before its last flight in 2003.

Air France flight AF4590 punctured a tire running over a piece of metal from a Continental DC-10 that had taken off before it. The tire exploded, and rubber from the tire hit the plane’s fuel tank and caused a fire. With only one operational engine the plane couldn’t gain altitude.

Since the retirement of Concorde there’s been no supersonic commercial air travel. It had competitors – the Soviet Tupolov nicknamed Konkordski, and the Boeing 2707 SST which was never completed.

It’s amazing that Concorde entered commercial service in 1976, and its Mach 2 speeds haven’t been matched by new aircraft since. But Concorde took about 8 times as much fuel per passenger mile as a conventional jet, and the sonic booms it generated created backlash from voters.

Here are some of the routes that were operated by Concorde:

Only one U.S. airline ever operated Concordes — Braniff leased planes from British Airways and Air France and flew domestically in 1979 and 1980 at subsonic speeds from Dallas to Washington Dulles where BA and Air France crews would take over for the onward journey to London and Paris.

Supersonic travel is banned over the U.S. Period. There aren’t noise limits that technology can work towards. Instead, use of the technology over land no matter how quiet is simply against FAA regulations.

A July 2011 FAA presentation indicated an openness to revisiting these rules although one can expect significant lobbying against this — not just from noise opponents but from airlines that don’t wish to invest in the technology.

As a result of flight bans over land you can fly New York – London or San Francisco – Tokyo, but not New York – Tokyo (without giving up the speed advantage while flying over land).

Boom Technology is working to bring back supersonic flight. They have a small demonstrator plane they hope to test in flight next year with room inside for only a pilot. It is expected to fly Mach 2.2 or 10% faster than Concorde. It’s striking that after 50 years they’re only looking at 10% more speed and a ‘30% gain in efficiency’. That’s a real testament to what was created, economic efficiencies aside, in the 1960s.

They have support from Richard Branson’s Spaceship Company and plan to use three General Electric J85-21 turbojet engines in each plane.

With advances in jet engines, and new composite materials, they think they can generate the efficiencies needed to make supersonic commercial travel viable with planes in flight by the mid-2020s.

As long as supersonic travel is more expensive than subsonic, the market will be limited. And limited markets make it tough to recoup development and acquisition costs. Airlines have a hard time making money operating only a couple of planes of a type. The plane needs to be capable of flying long distances, fuel efficiently, and large numbers of passengers in order to be economical on a large scale.

Otherwise the market has to be able to support fares significantly higher than for subsonic transport. The ultimate question is: how much is shaving 3.5 hours off of a transatlantic flight worth, and to how many people?

In 10 years cars will drive themselves, and our kids will ask us if people really used to drive them — and how that was possible without having accidents all the time? And in 10 years we may be flying across the Atlantic in 3 hours and across the Pacific in 5 hours… provided the US government doesn’t stand in the way.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Oh wow. There goes your first class and super luxury experience. Everyone will be in the same class. I think first class will be on flights to Mars.

  2. It’s Mach speed, not March. At first I thought it was a typo, but it was used twice so I’ll assume you’re ignorant on the topic.

  3. perfect hypothetical question to ask readers: given the same price (say..$1500 ea way), would you fly LAX-NRT in 5hrs (in economy plus type seats) or 12 hrs in lie-flats?

  4. Who cares if there’s no first class – or business class – if you’re flying TATL in 3 hours, or TPAC in 5 hours?

    Not sure where Trey’s getting the $1500 price point – that’s a decent TPAC fare in current economy. So if Boom’s selling supersonic TPAC at $1500 that’s a no-brainer regardless of if it’s economy.

    No matter what – when Boom fails – it’s not because the government will be in the way. It’s because the business plan doesn’t work.

  5. Trey I would take the supersonic in economy plus any day over the longer flight even in a suite. It’s all about the time.

  6. I still cannot figure out why they want to keep windows? Especially with a wing that huge it makes absolutely no sense. They could avoid many tension issues by going window-less…

  7. Garry,
    I don’t know where you got this map but Dakar in the middle of Egypt ?!?
    Dakar was a fuel stop of Air France Paris to Rio flight and is on the coast of Senegal.

  8. Gary, love your articles.
    Dakar airport code is DKR. In your route map from gcmap, i believe you have used the wrong airport code.

  9. What’s the big woop
    Christ I flew mach 2
    30 years ago.
    Ppl are acting like this is new friggin tech – it’s from the damn 60s for Christ sake
    Are ppl that daft
    They don’t recall or ?

  10. Using “march” instead of “mach” twice really dumbs down the article. Can’t blame it on auto correct or typo when done twice. That only leaves stupid. Especially for a self proclaimed “Air Genius” as you state in your profile. Nice job genius.

  11. Well I didn’t have better things to do but I need my daily VFTW fix. That’s why I lurking at the site and strike, always trying to be the first to comment.

  12. Air Force ROTC in college our Detachment Commander had flown the Blackbird in his active duty days, he had a framed certificate on his wall that he was a member of the mach 3+ club. There was a lot of really cool technology developed in the 1950s and 1960s that we’ve let slide more recently.

    And I agree with an earlier post, why keep windows in the plane and introduce tougher engineering problems than are needed? Wasn’t there an airline recently that wanted to project outside images on the inside of the windowless plane?

  13. “No bucks, no Buck Rogers.”

    Supersonic just doesn’t make sense for commercial passenger aviation. It’s not just the 8x cost of fuel, it’s the significantly more complex and expensive aircraft. Concorde was built in an era of government-fueled vanity projects. The financiers and money men are now fully in charge. Sure I could see private biz-jet versions of this, so the billionaire nationless class could flit around. But you and me? Never.

  14. Meh. I’ll take a nice flatbed and a few more hours any time over going faster but in cramped conditions for a much higher price.

  15. I think gary you meant Dakar for the AF concorde going to rio.

    But Dakar is in senegal and not in egypt? like in the map.

  16. LHR-Barbados was also a Concorde route in season.

    Sure, Concorde wasn’t as plush as modern First Class, but getting where you’re going in daylight was pretty neat, and did away with the need for lie-flat seats, especially since they had a great pitch, about 40 degree recline IIRC, and you sat up the whole way since the food was excellent and the service was sublime.

    Bring it back anytime!

  17. It does feel like everything took a step backwards when Concorde ceased flying. It’s got to move forward again – like everything else. Progression must be made.

  18. The reason why Dakar is in the wrong place on the map is because he accidentally typed in DAK instead of DKR. The former is Dakhla Oasis Airport, which the map shows in its correct location. Simple enough mistake.

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