Supersonic aircraft maker announces its first factory

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper receives a model of the Boom Supersonic Overture jet from Boom President and Chief Business Officer Kathy Savitt, Greensboro, North Carolina, January 26, 2022.

Walt Unks/Winston-Salem Journal via AP

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A Colorado-based airline announced Wednesday that it has selected a North Carolina airport as the manufacturing site for next-generation supersonic passenger jets. If successful, the investment could create more than 2,000 jobs in the region over the next decade while dramatically reducing flight times for a post-Concorde generation of air travellers.

Boom Supersonic has announced that Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro will house its first full-scale manufacturing facility, including the final assembly line, test and delivery center for its proposed Overture supersonic airliner. Boom estimates it will create more than 1,750 jobs by 2030, with a goal of reaching more than 2,400 jobs by 2032.

State and local governments have offered $230 million in financial incentives to make the project a reality, including money for airport improvements, which the Legislature approved in November, and other sweeteners approved on Wednesday .

As with most such projects, some of the incentives given to Boom Technology Inc., the company’s parent company, will be rescinded if they fail to meet job creation and investment goals. The planned capital investment is $500 million.

Jacksonville, Fla., and Greenville-Spartanburg, South Carolina, were also in the running for the plant, according to a state Commerce Department official who publicly briefed an incentives committee ahead of the announcement. The project was known to recruiters as “Project Thunderbird”.

The Overture aircraft is designed to carry 65 to 88 passengers, burn sustainable aviation fuel and cruise at 60,000 feet (18,290 meters) at 1,300 mph (2,090 km/h), twice the speed of passenger jets today. However, many technical and manufacturing hurdles still need to be overcome before the aircraft becomes a practical option for airlines.

In a press release Wednesday, the company said the new plant will begin production in 2024, with the first Overture aircraft deployed in 2025, flying in 2026 and carrying its first passengers by 2029.

“Selecting the site for manufacturing Overture is an important step in delivering sustainable supersonic air travel to passengers and airlines,” Boom Supersonic CEO Blake Scholl said in the release. He said North Carolina’s ready aerospace workforce, easy access to technical schools and proximity to aerospace suppliers were factors influencing the company’s decision to locate here.

The Piedmont Triad Airport is already the headquarters of Honda Aircraft Co. and the production site for its seven-passenger HondaJet Elites.

“Boom is confident that Greensboro will become the supersonic manufacturing center of the world,” Scholl said.

Governor Roy Cooper and other elected leaders and recruiters gathered in Greensboro for the announcement. It came less than two months after Toyota announced it would build an electric vehicle battery plant in the area, about a 90-minute drive west of Raleigh.

Cooper referenced the crowd about North Carolina’s “First in Flight” designation – it was on the Outer Banks that the Wright brothers made the first powered self-propelled flights in December 1903.

“This afternoon we’re kicking off the future of flight,” Cooper said. “We are ready with the education, diverse workforce, transportation, good economy and quality of life necessary for success.” The average salary for plant employees is expected to be close to $69,000 per year.

Boom is one of many companies trying to revive supersonic passenger travel, which died with the grounding of the Concorde nearly two decades ago. Boom has built a one-third-size demonstrator plane called the XB1, but now faces the daunting challenge of inflating it.

Boom boasts of “pre-orders” from several potential customers. United Airlines also announced an agreement last year to purchase 15 Overture and take options for 35 more. United, however, said any order was contingent on Boom meeting certain financial and operational targets, which it declined to describe in detail.

Skeptics say that if supersonic passenger travel were really feasible, Boeing and Airbus would build the planes instead of leaving the market to startups like Boom.

The Concorde flew over the Atlantic and was banned from many land routes due to sonic booms, and any new supersonic aircraft will face the same obstacles. Another contributing factor in killing the Concorde was its high operating cost. Scholl said technology will help solve both of these challenges and tickets should be within the range of current business class fares.

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