This founder dreams of flying New York to London in 3 hours on a plane with huge windows
The Denver-based start-up plans to fly passengers at 1,451 miles per hour by the early 2020s
By Ari Levy and Jeniece Pettitt
For his future travel, Blake Scholl envisions hailing a self-driving car to the Hyperloop, which will take him to the airport so he can board a supersonic airplane headed for the other side of the planet.
Scholl is taking it upon himself to enable the last leg of that journey.
An internet entrepreneur and pilot of 15 years, Scholl is the founder and CEO of Boom Supersonic, a Denver-based start-up that’s planning to fly passengers over oceans at 1,451 miles per hour by the early 2020s.
Boom on Wednesday announced a US$33 million financing round that Scholl told CNBC would be enough money to build and fly his first aircraft. The single-aisle planes with personal overhead bins, according to Scholl, will seat up to 55 passengers, elevate to 60,000 feet and cost about the same price as a business class ticket.
They’ll also have giant windows.
“At 60,000 feet you can actually see the curve of the Earth,” Scholl said in an interview with CNBC last week at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas. “The skies are a deeper blue. You wouldn’t want to miss it.”
Scholl, who previously sold a mobile payments start-up to Groupon , is among a new crop of highly ambitious tech entrepreneurs aiming to upend and upgrade global transportation. Elon Musk , with his electric cars at Tesla and SpaceX shuttles, has raced past older industrial businesses, while Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Virgin’s Richard Branson are also building companies that are zooming towards space.
Hyperloop , a high-speed transportation network that’s aiming to revolutionize intercity travel, was conceived by Musk and multiple companies are trying to commercialize it.
Musk’s success to date has helped convince Scholl that his pre-product start-up is better positioned than Boeing or Airbus to create the next generation airplane. That’s because legacy manufacturers are focused on winning share today in the market for single-aisle planes and long-haul jumbo jets.
“Before Elon started SpaceX, probably everyone believed that was only something for governments and giant corporations,” Scholl said. “He’s shown that a small company on a relatively small amount of money can go and accomplish things that the big guys can’t.”
Scholl is quick to admit that supersonic travel has been tried before, with limited success. The Concorde, a joint effort between England and France, flew at over twice the speed of sound from 1976 to 2003. Round-trip tickets from New York to London cost up to US$20,000.
Boom aims to sell tickets for one-fourth that price, a feat that Scholl says is achievable because of advancements in lightweight materials and engine technology as well as the massive improvements in software so that plane development can happen in simulations.
“We really rushed into the supersonic age before we had the technology to do it efficiently,” Scholl said. At US$20,000, Scholl said a Concorde flight was a “bucket list” item.
While Boom plans to start with transoceanic routes like New York to London, San Francisco to Tokyo and Seattle to Shanghai, Scholl said he ultimately wants to fly any high-trafficked routes of about 1,000 miles or more. And he expects prices to steadily drop.
Why not start with domestic routes like New York to Los Angeles or Chicago to Miami?
Scholl cites a little-known speed limit that restricts how fast planes can fly over land in the U.S. He chalks it up to “Cold War politics” and says it marked a “low point in aviation policy history.”
Virgin’s Branson is already on board. The billionaire has options on the first 10 aircraft at US$200 million a pop, or US$2 billion in total.
Getting to 10 commercially viable planes will likely take a lot more money than the US$41 million Boom has now raised.
But there’s no shaking his optimism for the future. Scholl says investors, suppliers and certainly customers would gladly welcome innovations in air travel.
“Everybody wants this to exist,” he said. “It’s a matter of showing that after 50 years this is finally possible.”