Boom Supersonic’s self-imposed end-of-year deadline for announcing its engine manufacturer is quickly approaching. The ongoing search is one of several challenges facing the company.
In late January of this year, Governor Roy Cooper announced Boom Supersonic’s intention to manufacture a new passenger aircraft at Piedmont Triad International Airport known as Overture.
These supersonic jets were said to travel from New York to London in under four hours, using engines designed and manufactured by Rolls Royce. But in early September, the London-based engine manufacturer announced that its contract with Boom had expired. And later that month several other manufacturers told aviation site Flight Global that they were not interested in filling that void.
UNC-Greensboro Professor of Economic Geography Keith Debbage says the first signs of trouble began more than a year ago.
"Their schematics that they kept putting out revealed first a plane with two engines," says Debbage. "Then a plane with three engines with the third engine in the tail, and then finally the current sort of schematics that you see that include a plane with four engines."
In June of last year, United Airlines announced its deposit to buy 15 Overtures, followed by a similar announcement by American for 20. But industry experts suggest that the main concern for manufacturers is whether airlines actually purchase the planes. That has not been the case for supersonic jets historically. Bob Dixon has flown for decades and was a longtime airshow performer. Orders for the Concorde — billions of dollars in the making — were placed by many airlines, but Dixon says that ultimately deliveries were made to only Air France and British Airways.
"The probability that they will achieve anything is very low," says Dixon. "You’ve got to remember it took two countries — France and England — years to develop the Concorde, and it was governments doing that."
Debbage says in order to develop the Overture and get it to market, Boom will likely need to spend roughly $8 billion. So far the company has raised roughly $270 million to date. Debbage calls the current engine situation concerning and he sees the most direct parallels not with Concorde, but with Boom's recent competitor, Aerion.
"Aerion was an equivalent company that was trying to come to market too," he says. "They had similar issues. And part of the reason they went bankrupt last year in May is that they ended up having to try to develop the engines themselves, and that was like the final straw that turned them to bankruptcy."
In a statement to Business Insider last month, Boom Supersonic reconfirmed its intention to announce its engine partner later this year. Top tier manufacturers such as Pratt & Whitney and CFM have not officially taken themselves out of the mix.