The future has arrived—or almost.
Boeing has released the concept for a hypersonic passenger plane that could, in theory, take passengers from New York to London in just two hours. The trip usually takes about eight hours.
The concept for the plane was unveiled at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Aviation 2018 conference in Atlanta, Georgia, this week.
“Humankind has always wanted to go faster—always wanted to do things faster … People cannot make time, so there’s an inherent value in time,” said Kevin Bowcutt, chief scientist of hypersonics at Boeing, according to NBC News.
The futuristic aircraft would be capable of flying five times the speed of sound, or about 3,800 miles per hour. Engineers said it could cross the Pacific in three hours.
According to Aviation Week, the aircraft would be bigger than a long-range business jet but smaller than Boeing’s 737, and could have military or civilian applications.
“Technologically we could have an [operational military] hypersonic aircraft, such as an ISR, flying in 10 years. But there’s a lot that goes into a commercial airplane, including the market, regulatory and environmental requirements, so it will happen when there is a convergence of those things,” said Bowcutt, according to Aviation Week.
Boeing estimates the plane could in use by the 2030s.
But even if it is rolled out as a commercial vehicle, it’s not necessarily viable, at least not yet.
The supersonic Concorde Aircraft, which could go about 550 miles an hour and flew across the North Atlantic Ocean, was grounded in 2003 after a crash in France.
Another reason for its retirement, according to Mike Sinnett, Boeing’s vice president of future airplane development, was the economics.
With much higher ticket prices and fewer routes, it didn’t make business sense at the time.
“We can do all kinds of cool things, but those cool things have to lead to something that creates value, or at the end of the day it’s not going to be all that successful,” he told NBC. “In general, people flew on [the Concorde] as a novelty—it didn’t change the world, and the economics weren’t right.”
Technically speaking, Boeing will also have to figure out how to regulate the temperature of the plane, both in the cabin and around the propulsion system, and will have to mitigate the sonic booms the aircraft would create. This is one of the reasons the Concorde’s routes were so limited. Regulators didn’t want it to fly over densely populated areas because of the disturbance it caused.
But Boeing Chairman and CEO Dennis Muilenburg told CNBC that he thinks there will be market for them eventually.
“[There’s] still work to do on closing the business case to make sense for our customers, but we see future innovations where you’ll be able to connect anywhere around the world in about two hours, and I think that’ll be an important step forward,” he said. “I think in the next decade or two, you’re going to see that become a reality.”