Commercial faster than sound flights became feasible in the late 1960s with the development of the Concorde, though the aircraft didn’t enter regular service until 1976. It seem strange that faster than sound travel never really developed beyond this. Apart from a short lived Russian craft there were no other commercial supersonic flights. And even the Concord stopped flying in 2003.
Part of the problem was the sonic boom. The loud noise was not tolerated over many populated areas. So the Concord was limited to transatlantic and other ocean flights. This should have been enough to sustain the service – it was these long flights that benefitted most from faster travel. But faster-than-sound remained a small, and thereby expensive, travel option.
At least some of this looks to change in the near future. The Boom supersonic XB-1 is a faster-than-sound aircraft capable of carrying 55 passengers from London to New York in a little over three hours. Apparently more than 70 of the XB-1 have been pre-ordered, with many other airlines also interested.
This brings the availability of commercial supersonic flight back to the consumer, but so far there is little word on the other limiting factor – the prohibitive cost. This aircraft service would seem to be expensive to run. And that was part of the reason why the Concord was only moderately popular. Part of this problem might be a misperception, as many people overestimated the cost of the Concord tickets. It was more expensive than a subsonic first class, but no too much more. Tickets for the Concord in 1984 were about 20% higher than for the same first class flight at subsonic speeds.
Faster than sound travel will probably return as an option for business purposes. It might prove worthwhile for tourists.
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