San Francisco to Tokyo in under 6 hours? Japan Airlines bets on supersonic

Key Points
  • Japan Airlines is investing at least $10 million in Boom Supersonic.
  • The Denver-based start-up has already paired with Virgin founder Richard Branson.
  • Boom's jets could travel faster than 1,450 miles per hour, the company hopes.
Supersonic flights promised by 2023 as Boom announces airline orders

Japan Airlines is betting at least $10 million to bring back supersonic commercial flight at speeds that top those of the doomed Concorde.

The sum is going to Boom Supersonic, Japan Airlines said Tuesday, in hopes that the Denver-based upstart will successfully develop a plane that could cut flight times in half with cruising speeds of Mach 2.2 — more than 1,450 miles an hour.

That would make the trip from San Francisco to Tokyo a more bearable five and a half hours, Boom's founder Blake Scholl.

Japan Airlines has options to buy up to 20 Boom aircraft. Last year, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson announced that his company had options on the first 10 Boom jets.

Long-haul airlines have been battling for rich customers by decking out their first classes with opulent suites.

But the promise of supersonic offers what Japan Airlines and at least several others could consider a more valuable luxury: travelers' time.

JAL's $10 million investment in Boom is tiny in the aviation world, but shows at least one airline's willingness to bet on a startup for future aircraft. The airplane manufacturers that dominate the market — Airbus and Boeing — recently boasted about multibillion-dollar orders as record numbers of travelers take to the skies. But even though their newer planes promise fuel savings, they do little to save travelers much time.

The airline is also providing some practical experience to help make Boom a reality. Under the agreement, it will help "refine" the aircraft's design and help determine what it would be like for passengers on board an eventual supersonic jet.

Boom's jets, which founder Scholl envisions in an all-business-class configuration, would be more economical than the Concorde, the founder expects. The final Concorde flight was in October 2003, as a deadly crash and economic downturn hurt demand for seats aboard the supersonic jet.

Boom is planning to test its designs on a one-third scale demonstrator plane, which it calls "Baby Boom," in late 2018 and expects the planes to be delivered by the mid-2020s.

Boom and Japan Airlines are considering transoceanic routes, but don't expect a cross-country trip to take less time. A 1973 U.S. law banned overland commercial supersonic flight.