The Future of Commercial Supersonic Flights

Why did the Concorde fail, and can Boom Technology succeed?

A supersonic flight is any flight faster than the speed of sound. While supersonic jets are standard in the military, nearly two decades have passed since the last commercial supersonic flight. The Concorde, a supersonic jet developed and funded by the British and French governments, first entered commercial service in January 1976 (2). It reduced the time of its routes by half and could reach an altitude of 60,000 feet, and a cruising speed of Mach 2, two times the speed of sound(3).

The idea for the Concorde initially began in 1956 between the British and French governments, with detailed design and development officially beginning in 1962. The Concorde featured an “ogival” shaped delta wing which facilitated supersonic flight and created vortex lift at lower speeds during take-off and landing. It used four Olympus 593 engines and was the only jet with afterburners during its flying career. The first, French-built prototype 001 had its first flight in March of 1969, while the British-built prototype 002 had its first flight just a month later. Over the span of 10 years, a total of 20 Concordes were built (3). Only 14 entered service, with British Airways and Air France each receiving seven aircraft (4).

The Concorde quickly became a sign of luxury for the elite, reducing a New York to London flight from seven hours to just three and a half hours. However, Concorde’s design was far from perfect. Sonic booms, or explosion sounds and intense vibrations caused by shock waves from objects traveling at supersonic speeds, resulted from Concorde and forced it to limit its flights to over water only. On the other hand, the Concorde’s short range meant it could not fly over the Pacific, further limiting it to just transatlantic flights (4).

What was originally planned to be a $130 million budget for the Concorde quickly rose to $2.8 billion. While the Concorde was designed when jet fuel was cheap, the 1973-1974 oil crisis quickly eliminated any profit margins for the plane. By the late 1990s, its features and exclusivity had caused tickets for a one-way trip to rise above today’s equivalent of $6000 (4).

Perhaps one of the most notorious pieces of Concorde history is the crash of July 2000, when Air France Flight 4590 was hit by debris on the runway during take-off. The left fuel tank ruptured, causing a fire and leading the aircraft to crash into a hotel in Gonesse two minutes after taking off. The crash killed all 109 people on board and 4 in the hotel. Although the Concorde had operated for three decades without crashes or casualties, it had less than 80,000 total take-offs and landings. The 2000 incident plummeted its safety rating, shook customer confidence, and caused all Concorde flights to be grounded for over a year (4, 2).

Post this accident, an additional $93 million was spent on safety improvements, but along with increased maintenance costs and the upkeep of an aging fleet, the Concorde was eventually rendered financially unviable. The Concorde flew for a total of 27 years, with Air France retiring its fleet on June 27, 2003, and the last commercial Concorde flight and British Airways’ fleet retiring on October 24, 2003.

While all commercial flights since then have been subsonic, flying under the speed of sound, Denver-based Boom Technology hopes to bring back supersonic air travel. It recently unveiled its latest design for Overture, its supersonic airliner, which is expected to enter service by 2029. Overture is a product of 51 design iterations, 5 wind tunnel tests, and 26 million hours of software simulation. Scheduled for production in 2024, Overture will fly at Mach 1.7 over water and Mach 0.94 over land. It will have a range of 4250 nautical miles and a passenger capacity of 65-80 people (5).

Noise and environmental impact played a significant role in the downfall of the Concorde, and Boom is taking measures to ensure that it is more sustainable and quiet. Overture is optimized to run on 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). Unlike the aluminum-made Concorde, Overture will use carbon composite materials throughout the plane to reduce weight and drag, the force that opposes the aircraft’s motion, helping it increase its aerodynamics and efficiency. The use of four engines on the aircraft will also help to considerably reduce noise  (5).

In 2020, Rolls-Royce signed an “engagement agreement” with Boom to explore an engine for the Overture; in early September of 2022, Rolls-Royce announced that it had terminated the contract. In a statement to AIN Online, it explained, “after careful consideration, Rolls-Royce has determined that the commercial aviation supersonic market is not currently a priority for us and, therefore, will not pursue further work on the program at this time” (7). Many other engine manufacturers have also expressed their lack of interest in making supersonic engines for Boom, with engine maker Pratt & Whitney’s chief sustainability officer Graham Webb describing supersonic jets as “tangential” (7).

While Boom does not currently have engines for its aircraft, it is continuing to develop Overture and plans to announce a new engine partner later this year. “As a practice, we avoid commenting on any ongoing and confidential negotiation with our suppliers, until both sides are ready to announce jointly,” Boom told Insider in September (7). “However, we can reconfirm our intention to announce Boom’s selected engine partner and transformational approach for reliable, cost-effective, and sustainable supersonic flight, later this year” (7).

Boom has over 600 “profitable” routes planned for Overture. The company estimates that an Overture flight will initially cost around 25% more than a standard business class seat and approximately 75% less than the Concorde. Boom’s long-term goal is to take passengers anywhere in the world within four hours for a price as low as $100 (5).

United Airlines and American Airlines have placed orders for 15 and 20 Overtures. Meanwhile, Japan Airlines also invested $10 million in Boom back in 2017, giving them the option to purchase up to 20 aircraft in a pre-order agreement (6). Boom has also announced partnerships with Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Air Force to develop military versions of its Overture plane (1).

Despite the setbacks caused by the absence of an engine partner, Boom is optimistic about the future of Overture. If Boom were to achieve its targets for sustainability and efficiency, we may soon see the return of civilian supersonic travel at a more affordable cost. Cutting down major route times by half, supersonic flight might once again be a staple of air travel, all while being carbon neutral and more accessible to everyday passengers.

British Airways Concorde from 1986.

Render of Overture, flying at 60,000 feet.

Render of an Overture in United livery.

Works Cited:

  1. Boom – Overture. (2022). BOOM Supersonic. Retrieved October 9, 2022, from
  2. Editors. (2010, February 9). The Concorde makes its final flight. History. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from
  3. Concorde. (2022). The Museum of Flight. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from
  4. Ahlgren, L. (2020, November 6). What Was The Problem With Concorde? Simple Flying. Retrieved October 8, 2022, from
  5. Hardingham-Gill, T. (2022, July 22). Boom Supersonic unveils new design for Overture supersonic jet. CNN. Retrieved October 8, 2022, from
  6. Pallini, T., & Rains, T. (2022, August 16). American has ordered 20 Boom Overture supersonic Jets and is set to Become the Largest Customer of the Ultrafast Plane. Business Insider. Retrieved October 9, 2022, from
  7. Rains, T. (2022, September 18). Engine makers won’t help Boom build a supersonic engine for Overture. Business Insider. Retrieved October 8, 2022, from


  1. File:British Airways Concorde G-BOAC 03.jpg – Wikimedia Commons. (1986, May). Retrieved October 8, 2022, from website:
  2. Boom – Supersonic Press Room. (2022). Retrieved October 8, 2022, from BOOM Supersonic website:
  3. Boom – Supersonic Press Room. (2022). Retrieved October 8, 2022, from BOOM Supersonic website: