Chinese travel services leader Ctrip is among the latest to back the return of ultra-fast aircraft with some serious money.
Travelers in one of the world’s largest overseas tourism markets are going further than ever before. China’s leading travel company hopes their journeys will soon get a lot faster, too.
Ctrip announced on April 24, 2018 that it had completed a strategic investment in Boom Supersonic, a supersonic aircraft developer headquartered in the United States, to develop a jet that would halve flight times from the United States to China. The plane would transport travelers from Shanghai to San Francisco, for example, in about six hours, cutting flight time by around five hours. Boom, which has already been working with Virgin Group and Japan Airlines to launch air travel on a Mach-2.2 airliner, will be exploring the possibility of giving Ctrip the opportunity to offer 10-15 seats to Chinese passengers on one of its first commercial supersonic flights, which are expected to commence in the mid-2020s.
“We are absolutely thrilled that we are able to work with Boom to bring supersonic flights to China and our users,” a spokesperson for Ctrip tells JWT Intelligence. “This revolutionizes the way we travel.” The spokesperson noted that, while fewer than 10% of Chinese citizens hold a passport, the number of outbound travelers is increasing year on year: “We feel that the passion Chinese have for traveling will only continue to increase. As flight time is an important factor in determining the popularity of a destination, supersonic flights, which halve the flight time and make an overnight trip into a day trip, would have great appeal for travelers.”
As its name suggests, the Mach-2.2 airliner is capable of traveling at Mach 2.2, a speed of 1,451 miles per hour, more than twice as fast as current passenger planes. Boom’s website gives examples of potential passenger routes and times, including a New York to London flight that would take just over three hours instead of seven, at a price of about $2,500 each way.
It used to cost much more to fly faster than the speed of sound. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, a trip on the supersonic Concorde jet developed by British Airways and Air France supersonic jet was a luxury affair at about $12,000 per seat. Demand for speed wasn’t strong enough to sustain the industry after the Concorde’s devastating crash in 2000, and the plane was permanently grounded in 2003.
More recently, however, several aerospace companies and organizations, including NASA, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, have investigated reviving supersonic flights. As Andrew Hoy, then a managing director at ExecuJet Aviation Group, told the Independent in 2012, “Most all of the manufacturers have done size, have done luxury and opulence. Time is the biggest opportunity for them all and the only differentiator left.”
One of the main remaining challenges is finding a way to reduce the blast that has prevented these planes from traveling over land in the past—the sonic boom that is strong enough to break windows on the ground. Boom is one of the companies showing the most promise of resolving this, with the help of venture capital funding. So far, it has raised about $85 million in total, from various investors.
Blake Scholl, founder and CEO of Boom, says that the desire for speed is only one part of the equation. “What really matters are the new trips you choose to take—the ones you otherwise wouldn’t have considered because the journey was simply too long. When we fly twice as fast, the world becomes twice as small, turning far-off lands into familiar neighbors.”