Other voices: The sonic Boom heard around the state

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 2, 2022

“What I want is to go anywhere in the world in four hours for a hundred bucks,” Boom Supersonic’s CEO, Blake Scholl, told CBS’s “60 Minutes” in November.

Glad we could join him for the ride.

His company’s new supersonic passenger airliner flagship “superfactory” will be landing soon at Piedmont Triad International Airport.

It should be an exhilarating trip for the entire Triad, whose leaders joined forces with one another and the state to make it happen.

Based in Denver, Boom plans to build and sell a fleet of sleek, faster-than-sound aircraft, branded the Overture, in the Triad. The facility should bring 1,761 jobs at an average annual salary of $68,792. It is expected to pump $32.3 billion into the state economy over 20 years.

In turn, Greensboro and Guilford County leaders have approved economic sweeteners for the company: $1,500 per job from the city of Greensboro and up to $12 million in tax incentives from Guilford County. The state approved $106.7 million for upgrades at the airport and an $87.3 million grant if job and investment goals are met.

Conceptual drawings of the plane picture a futuristic white stiletto with wings that recalls its ill-fated forebear, the Concorde Supersonic Transport, or SST, which was deemed too loud and expensive and made its final flight in 2003. “It’s going to be different this time. It’s back to stay,” Scholl told “60 Minutes.”

Boom believes it has solved those problems and plans for the Overture to begin carrying people, very, very fast, from points A to B.

Scholl noted that his “four hours for a hundred bucks” comment was his ultimate goal, not something that will happen anytime soon.

Even so, Overture will be expected to carry passengers from Newark, N.J., to London in 3½ hours.

By contrast, the news of Boom’s arrival had been a slow leak since the first reports surfaced in December. The buzz since then has been constant and palpable, as were some undercurrents of angst that it was too good to be true. (We’ve been burned before by unfulfilled hopes.)

This time was different. And the good news about Boom follows the announcement in late fall that a Toyota electric and hybrid car battery plant will be built at the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite. Toyota is expected to invest more than $1 billion at the megasite and employ at least 1,759 during the project’s first phase.

Both Toyota and Boom also involve forward thinking and cutting-edge technology. Both anticipate where the market is going rather than where it is now. Both embrace green energy. In fact, Boom plans to be the first commercial airliner to be net carbon neutral and to use 100% sustainable fuel.

That said, the Boom Overture exists only in sexy artists’ conceptions.

A private company has never before built a supersonic jet. And a November report on CBS’s “60 Minutes” noted that the Overture has no engine yet.

But Boom already has orders from United Airlines for 15 jets with an option to buy 35 more. Its partners include Rolls-Royce and the U.S. Air Force. And in an era in which private businesses are building rockets and sending passengers into space, why not a supersonic airliner? And why not here?

If anything, Boom resembles HondaJet, which chose PTI Airport as its site to develop and build smaller passenger planes. Honda Aircraft Co. sold and delivered its 200th HondaJet Elite in December and is developing a larger model.

Boom also considered sites in Jacksonville, Fla., and Greenville, S.C., state Commerce Department officials say. Boom President Kathy Savitt cited the labor pool, schools, colleges and universities (she specifically referred to N.C. A&T), infrastructure and quality of life as key advantages for the Triad. She also mentioned the area’s proximity to the coast, where the plane will make test flights over the ocean.

So, Boom’s decision speaks well of the Triad and PTI Airport.

Boom and Toyota will bring back only a fraction of the jobs lost in the Triad when the furniture, tobacco and textile industries faded. And Boom may not ultimately accomplish all of Scholl’s stratospheric ambitions. But both are the types of industries that also attract related manufacturers and suppliers.

There’s no question that these are two of the most significant successes for the Triad economy in decades.

— Greensboro News & Record