Boom time

Will commercial jets break the sound barrier once again?


FOR 27 YEARS Concorde epitomised jet-setting glamour. Yet its elegant delta wings came with the ear-splitting noise of thirsty military-derived engines; champagne was served in a cramped cabin with small seats; and cruising at twice the speed of sound, which just about halved the time for an Atlantic crossing, cost twice the regular business-class fare. Devotees shed a tear after its farewell flight in 2003, following a fatal crash in 2000 and the terrorist attacks of September 11 th 2001. Most business travellers shrugged.

在服役的 27 年里,协和式超音速客机成了遨游世界的光鲜生活的象征。不过与它优雅的三角翼相伴的是源自军用的高油耗发动机震耳欲聋的噪音;机上供应香槟,但客舱逼仄,座位狭小;它以两倍于音速的速度飞行,让跨越大西洋所需的时间差不多减去一半,不过票价也比一般商务舱高出一倍。在发生了 2000 年的致命空难和 2001 年 9 月 11 日的恐怖袭击之后,2003 年协和式飞机完成告别飞行,信徒们流下了眼泪。大多数商务旅行者只是耸了耸肩。

“Picking up where Concorde left off”is how Blake Scholl, chief executive of Boom Supersonic, describes Overture 1, the jet which the American startup is developing. It will propel up to 88 passengers 1.7 times as fast as sound while avoiding Concorde’s drawbacks. This appeals to United Airlines. On June 3 rd it agreed to buy 15 planes, with an option for 35 more. JAL and Virgin Atlantic have options to acquire 30 between them. Mr Scholl promises that supersonic fares, once only for the very rich, will now be“for everyone”—or at least those who can afford to fly business on the same route. Better aerodynamics, materials and engines are intended to keep operating costs 75% below those of Concorde. Civilian engines will propel the aircraft in relative quiet and use sustainable fuel to head off criticism from environmentalists. Mockups of the cabin look suitably plush.

「它继承了协和式客机的遗风」,美国创业公司 Boom Supersonic 的首席执行官布莱克・绍尔(Blake Scholl)这样描述公司正在研发的飞机「1 号序曲」(Overture 1)。它将最多能搭载 88 名乘客,以 1.7 倍音速飞行,同时还会避免协和式客机的缺点。这在美联航看来很有吸引力。6 月 3 日,该公司同意购买 15 架飞机,另取得 35 架的优先购买权。日本航空和维珍航空共拥有 30 架飞机的优先购买权。绍尔承诺,过去只有富人们才负担得起的超音速机票现在「人人都买得起」,或者至少是那些在同样航线上买得起商务舱的人。一号序曲更符合空气动力学,材料更佳,引擎更强,因而运营成本比协和低 75%。民用发动机会让飞机在相对安静的环境中飞行,并会使用可持续燃料,以免被环保主义者指摘。机舱模型看起来足够舒适高档。

UBS, a bank, thinks supersonic travel has a future. It puts the cumulative size of the market at between $80 bn and $280 bn by 2040, depending on regulatory hurdles and whether the planes are delivered on time, on budget and operate as promised. Mr Scholl is eyeing the upper end of that range, a potential market for 1,200 Overture 1 s at $200 m each. Then he hopes to make progressively bigger craft offering lower fares and higher speeds. Spike, another American firm with supersonic ambitions, is developing an 18-seat business jet that doesn’t make a loud boom.

瑞银看好超音速旅行。它预计到 2040 年这一市场的累计规模将在 800 亿至 2800 亿美元之间,具体数字待看监管障碍以及飞机是否按时、按预算交付和按预期运营。绍尔现在盯着的是这一预测区间的上限,这一规模下可以消化 1200 架单价 2 亿美元的 1 号序曲。之后,他希望逐步造出更大的飞机,价格更低,速度更快。另一家有超音速雄心的美国公司 Spike 正在开发一种 18 座的低音爆公务机。

Is this pie in the sky? A distant caveat-strewn commitment is good publicity for United and for Boom when it seeks more funding. It is unlikely that much cash has yet changed hands. Overture 1 is not set to enter service until 2029. Aerion, another firm that hoped to build an 8-10-seat business jet, unexpectedly folded in May despite orders worth more than $11 bn and backing from Boeing, America’s giant aeroplane-maker.

这会不会是空中楼阁?对美联航和寻求更多融资的 Boom 公司来说,留有较长的兑现期并时不时做一些补充声明是一种不错的自我宣传。目前还不太可能有大量现金交易。1 号序曲要到 2029 年才开始服役。另一家公司 Aerion 希望造出八座到十座的公务机,尽管获得了超过 110 亿美元的订单和美国飞机制造巨头波音的支持,却在 5 月出人意料地倒闭了。

National regulations banning supersonic speeds over land rule out trips across North America, home to lots of business travellers and most of the world’s business jets. Morgan Stanley, a bank, reckons that at $120 m, double the price of a similar subsonic plane, even the ultra-rich wouldn’t pay to cut four hours from a transatlantic trip. Tellingly, Boeing itself has no plans to go supersonic. Nor has Airbus, its European arch-rival (which was involved in the Concorde project). The Passenger-jet duopoly reckons that cheaper and cleaner flying is more important than speed. Breaking the sound barrier is still some way off for the ordinary punter.

美国法规禁止在本土超音速飞行,这就排除了穿越北美的航行,而这里是众多商务旅行者和世界上大多数公务机的所在。摩根士丹利认为,Aerion 公务机 1.2 亿美元的单价是类似的亚音速飞机价格的两倍,即使是超级富豪也不愿意花这么多钱来让自己的跨大西洋旅行缩短四个小时。波音自己并没有超音速飞机的计划,这一点很能说明问题。它的欧洲头号竞争对手空中客车公司(曾参与协和式客机项目)也没有。这两家垄断了喷气式客机的巨头认为,更便宜、更清洁的飞行比速度更重要。对于普通旅行者来说,突破音障还需时日

Published since September 1843 to take part in “a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress.”


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