NASA (The National Aeronautics and Space Administration) announced earlier this week that it is moving forward with its quest to bring supersonic flight to commercial aviation. NASA hopes to design and fly a supersonic jet that produces a low rumble when it breaks the sound barrier instead of the double thunderclap now heard only from fighter aircraft that break the sound barrier.
However, the flight plan for lunch in New York with dinner in London is a long way from being filed. NASA expects 2021 for the pilot, literally a single pilot, in a single-engine aircraft as the earliest year for the launch.
The two primary protagonists in the super-sonic race are Lockheed Martin of “fifth-generation fighter jet F-35, fame and a relatively unknown upstart, Spike Aerospace from Boston MA which has a relatively low-cost projection of $60-80m plane, the S-512 that could seat 18-20 pax and as their website states enables “NYC – London day trips. Leave NYC at 7am ET, arrive in London by 4pm GMT. Have a dinner meeting, leave at 9pm GMT. Be home by 6pm ET. A jaunt across the Atlantic is just another day at the office. No overnight stay required.
The last line could send shivers up the lodging industry spine. But just as the advent of video conferencing a couple of decades ago was foretold by some analysts as negative for the industry, supersonic travel could, in fact, spur more overnight stays not less. The reasons are both empirical and simple.
When Concorde’s supersonic flights were launched the crew always stayed overnight despite most flights being under 4 hours. During the Concorde’s lifespan, some 2.5million passengers flew with British Airways and AirFrance, the two principal commercial airlines that operated the aircraft. Nearly half of those passengers ended up staying overnight in the cities they traveled to using the high-speed travel more as a means to get to their destination quickly rather than make a round trip.
Secondly, the Concorde’s fare basis was very high often exceeding regular first class fares which those days were higher than regular business class fares. Despite that the aircraft was a net loss to both airlines. While neither Spike nor Lockheed-Martin are in a position to price the seats techology likely has made the production of these new aircraft cheaper than the Concorde. That too is likely to spur more travel than the elitist and privileged set that used the limited routes that the Concorde flew. All told should these new birds get off the ground, the lodging industry could actually see its own take-off.