Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Japan Airlines Invests in Fledgling Supersonic Aircraft Company: Pact with Boom Technology reflects carrier’s focus on faster future aircraft

Yoshiharu Ueki, president of Japan Airlines Co., speaks during an interview in Tokyo in September.

The Wall Street Journal
By Andy Pasztor
Dec. 5, 2017 2:00 a.m. ET

Japan Airlines Co. has become the first carrier to invest in Boom Technology Inc., a U.S. startup seeking to build a faster-than-sound airliner capable of flying more than four dozen premium passengers to Tokyo from the West Coast in roughly five hours.

The $10 million commitment is a pittance for JAL, which flies more than 200 aircraft to roughly 180 destinations world-wide. But the strategic partnership has broader import because it reflects escalating industry interest and participation in the project, known as Boom Supersonic. JAL also signed nonbinding options to purchase 20 of the ultimate aircraft, bringing such expressions of interest to a total of 76.

Further details of the investment weren’t disclosed.

With a one-third scale version now scheduled to start flight tests in late 2018—nearly a year later than initially planned—JAL’s involvement is expected to influence cabin design and various operational issues. Blake Scholl, Boom’s founder and chief executive, said such cooperation is intended “to determine whether airlines will really be happy to have this airliner in their fleets,” including from a maintenance perspective.

Other new customers will be asked to make the same type of direct financial commitment to the development process when they agree on options, according to Mr. Scholl. Even if all the technical, regulatory and manufacturing challenges are resolved on schedule, the proposed supersonic jetliners designed to cruise approximately 10% faster than the now-mothballed Concorde fleet won’t start carrying passengers until 2023. The goal is to cut current transcontinental trip times in half. The price of the jetliner hasn’t been set, nor has the expected cost of a seat to fly on it.

The concept of a three-engine aircraft featuring limited seating in a premium-only configuration previously gained the backing of engine maker General Electric Co. and avionics supplier Honeywell International Inc. A cabin mock-up features large oval windows, almost like portholes, and a single row of seats on each side of the fuselage.

The demonstrator, called Baby Boom, resembles the contours of an experimental jet fighter with its needlelike nose, sweptback wings and tapered carbon-fiber body. Various companies are working on supersonic business jets.

Boom’s project has initial support from several venture funds and is taking an unusual approach by adopting various technologies already certified by regulators. In a joint release announcing the tie-up, Boom said “JAL will provide its knowledge and experience” to help develop the aircraft. The Colorado-based company, which has said it has adequate funding through initial flight, counts British entrepreneur Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic LLC as a partner. But the connection with JAL gives it a stronger presence in Asian airline markets.

Yoshiharu Ueki, president of JAL, said in the release that the carrier seeks “to contribute to the future of supersonic travel with the intent of providing” enhanced options for passengers “while emphasizing flight safety.” Industry officials said JAL sees the project partly as a long-term strategy to spur passenger growth and rebound from previous years of eroding revenue.

Increased interest in supersonic travel comes as members of Congress and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration step up efforts to study ways to significantly reduce sonic booms—and ease accompanying regulatory restrictions—that traditionally have blocked commercial supersonic flights over the U.S.

Original article can be found here ➤ https://www.wsj.com

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