Building a supersonic airliner requires special engines and herein lies the problem. Jilted by its initial engine partner, Rolls-Royce, and now with other engine manufacturers stating they are not too keen either, it seems that Boom is now in a predicament. No engines, no aircraft.
Boom stated it is confident it will find an engine partner by the end of 2022, saying,
“Some of the recent speculation we’ve seen related to our future engine program mischaracterises the current situation, and while we won’t comment on active partner discussions, we can confirm that Boom is currently engaged with a number of partners on Overture’s innovative propulsion solution. We remain on track for our engine announcement before the end of the year.”
Boom’s engine problems began when Rolls-Royce pulled out of the partnership. Rolls-Royce said in September that it would not be carrying out further work on supersonic engines, two years after signing a collaboration agreement with Boom Supersonic. Shortly thereafter, GE Aviation, Honeywell and Safran Aircraft Engines also reported no interest in supplying engines. CFM International then made a statement saying they are focused on the development of a new sustainable engine rather than a potential supersonic engine.
CFM Chief Executive Gaël Méheust said that the supersonic engine market “targets a very small potential niche”. During the ALTA AGM & Airline Leaders Forum on16 October 2022, Méheust added, “I don’t see this market being significant enough to divert investment into a supersonic engine.”
P&W commercial engines president, Rick Deurloo said, “We are 100% focused on existing programs.” P&W chief sustainability officer Graham Webb has also been quoted as saying there would be “efficiency concerns” regarding a supersonic engine.
So it seems engine manufacturers are under pressure, focusing to cut emissions and use SAF, and not believing a supersonic engine is viable. Boom insists that the Overture’s operation will also be carbon neutral, notwithstanding assertions by fuel producers that 100 percent SAF can reduce carbon emissions by up to 80 percent.
The other general problem is that Boom is catering for what is potentially just a niche market.
Critics say the introduction of a fuel-thirsty SST at a time established aerospace companies have turned their research and development efforts squarely toward environmental sustainability amounts to a fundamental miscalculation.
The Concorde program relied heavily on government funding, while Boom needs to succeed on a purely commercial basis. Boom claims to have drawn USD600 million of its estimated requirement of between USD6 billion and USD8 billion to bring the product to market. Bloomberg Intelligence senior aerospace/defence and airline analyst George Ferguson believes the program would absorb more than USD10 billion to reach certification.
Boom claims the much lighter Overture will prove far more fuel efficient and reckons airlines will need to charge no more per ticket for a transatlantic flight as they now charge first-class passengers on a conventional jet. Boom’s Scholl said in a statement, “We think we’re going to need hundreds, if not thousands of these aircraft and it’s going to touch tens of millions of lives every year. We found that 91 percent of business class passengers would buy a supersonic ticket tomorrow.”
Ferguson questions the claim. “You need volume, meaning you need to be able to deploy the airplane on a lot of routes and you need to sell a lot of airplanes so you can push down the cost and amortise it over a larger run of airplanes,” he said. “The reason the Concorde died is that people weren’t willing to pay up at that level—enough of them—to cross the Atlantic all the time, which again, is a very busy international market.”
Ferguson said, “By far, the most lucrative international market for all the U.S. airlines is the North Atlantic. Heathrow is traditionally the most important hub for U.S. business travel. So when this airplane comes out, it will probably arrive in Heathrow first from New York and, if you’re American Airlines, Chicago and maybe Texas.”
If recent commercial activity serves as any guide, potential operators might have at least lent some credibility to Boom’s claims that the use of 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) can eventually render the operation of the Overture transport carbon neutral. In fact, the Overture now has drawn order commitments covering four identified airlines, including 20 units from American Airlines and 15 for United with options for another 35.
Boom still estimates the Overture could serve as many as 600 markets around the world.