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No Sonic Cruiser After All

From the Economist, news that Boeing's Sonic Cruiser may not come to pass after all:

Officially no decision has been taken, and Boeing is still showing airlines pictures of three versions of its high-speed "sonic cruiser", the futuristic aircraft it unveiled in March 2001. But the sonic cruiser is not going to take off. Boeing may make the formal announcement before the end of the year. By March, it will unveil plans for a more conventional 250-seater jet, to take the place in the middle of the market of both the ageing Boeing 757 and the wide-bodied 767, two workhorses of the world's airlines. Out goes the sonic cruiser. In comes the decidedly less-catchy "super efficient" aircraft, a sort of cut-down Boeing 777...

An executive of the oneworld alliance, which includes American Airlines, British Airways and Cathay Pacific, this week described the number of sonic cruisers these airlines would buy as "a very round number", meaning zero. Lately Boeing has taken instead to showing airlines its early plans for its new conventional 250-seater.

The same technology of new composite materials and advanced computer-aided design that would have created the sonic cruiser will now be employed to produce efficiency rather than speed. The choice comes down to 20% more speed, at the same fuel-burn rate and operating cost; or the same performance, with 20% less fuel and a lower operating cost. Although a few airlines are still dazzled by the possibilities of the fast sonic cruiser, there are not enough of them to persuade Boeing to launch it. Most airlines are now keener to save money and repair their profits.

What a shame. You'd think that given the intensely cyclical nature of the airline business, they would remember that what goes down comes back up, and companies that invest for the future during bad times prosper during good. Watch as the economy recovers and airlines sign up for the Sonic Cruiser II, just in time to take delivery during the next worldwide slowdown.

Thankfully, hope exists yet for radical new airliner designs.

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