To get from my parents' home in New York to mine in the Eastern Mediterranean takes at least 20 hours of travel. I do this at least yearly with a preschooler in tow. It's as awful as you imagine.
So you know I am always on the lookout for news about changes to air travel that might make my annual trek a little less nightmarish. I, along with my fellow frequent long-haul travelers, just got some good news from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Who wants to go from New York to London in three hours?
From the info above you can be sure my answer to this question is yes. I very much doubt I'm alone in that. But since the Concorde ceased operations in 2003 following a 2000 crash and ongoing financial troubles, supersonic travel has only been the stuff of exhausted airport lounge daydreams.
Recently, however, a handful of innovators have been looking to bring back ultrafast air travel, but it's not just technical and economic challenges that stand in the way of companies like Colorado's Boom Technology and Aerion Supersonic. As Boom's (perhaps unfortunately chosen name) suggests, supersonic travel's other major problem is the thunderous boom it creates when jets break the sound barrier. For this reason the U.S. has had a blanket ban on supersonic air travel over land since the days of the Concorde.
But as Bloomberg reports, regulators are now changing course. The FAA is working to update its rules to "accommodate noise certification of new supersonic aircraft," an announcement on a White House website said.
What does that mean for both business travelers and those of us who regularly travel long distances with wriggly toddlers? "With advances in jet engines, and new composite materials, it may be possible to generate the efficiencies needed to make supersonic commercial travel viable with planes in flight by the mid-2020s," predicts Gary Leff, co-founder of InsideFlyer.com, on travel industry website View From the Wing.
Or to put that even more plainly, within ten years you may be able not only to fly from New York to London in three hours, or from San Francisco to Tokyo in five, but also actually speed from the East to the West Coast in a fraction of the current time as well.
But don't get too excited.
That's exciting news for frequent travelers, but Leff cautions that no one should get too excited quite yet. The economic math that made it challenging for Concorde to stay in business is still valid.
"As long as supersonic travel is more expensive than subsonic, the market will be limited. And limited markets make it tough to recoup development and acquisition costs. Airlines have a hard time making money operating only a couple of planes of a type. The plane needs to be capable of flying long distances, fuel efficiently, and large numbers of passengers in order to be economical on a large scale," he notes. "The ultimate question is: how much is shaving 3.5 hours off of a transatlantic flight worth, and to how many people?"
Another danger is that pushback against the new regulations by those with noise concerns (as well as what Leff terms "astroturf lobbying that looks like noise concern funded by incumbent airlines") could still scuttle the proposed changes.
Or, hey, maybe Elon Musk will make his dreams of intercontinental rocket travel a reality and beat three-hour supersonic flight times with 30-minute transatlantic hops (though chances of him doing that by anything like 2025 are close to impossible).
Boring Company Hyperloop will take you from city center under ground & ocean to spaceport in 10 to 15 mins https://t.co/VhpfhgdXSd-- Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 16, 2018
Despite all these cautions, the fact remains that the U.S. has moved one big step closer to way faster (if also more expensive -- Boom is aiming for $5,000 for NYC-LON return) long-haul travel. I, for one, am hoping the battle for super fast travel produces innovative new alternatives, and soon.