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Opinion
Thomas Black

Supersonic Passenger Jets Are Back? Not So Fast

American Airlines has agreed to buy jets that travel faster than the speed of sound, but the hurdles to build such planes are too steep.

Flight of fancy.

Flight of fancy.

Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

American Airlines Group Inc. just agreed to purchase 20 supersonic jets from Boom Supersonic that are designed to carry as many as 80 passengers. So, when will you be able to buy a ticket to fly at 1.7 times the speed of sound from New York to London and cut your travel time in half? Well, probably never.

Though the idea of commercial supersonic flight is alluring, the financial and technological hurdles to replace the legendary Concorde, which stopped flying in 2003, will be incredibly steep. There are reasons no aircraft manufacturer has built a replacement for that iconic plane despite the advances in engineering. The Concorde, which made its first scheduled passenger flights in 1976, was more a cult hit than a commercial success. That’s why airliners still chug along well below the sound barrier, which is about 680 miles an hour at 30,000 feet.