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  • Boeing unveiled a rendering of its first-ever design for a hypersonic passenger plane.
  • But questions remain about how much Boeing is willing to spend to develop the project.
  • Technological challenges remain and costs could be high, which raise questions about the potential profitability of the plane.

It’s a vision of the future that could someday jet people from the L.A. to Tokyo in just three hours or cut the time of a flight between New York and London down to just two.

Boeing unveiled a rendering of its first-ever design for a hypersonic passenger plane at an aerospace conference in Atlanta. While the idea and potential of the plane will generate plenty of buzz, this is a concept that is likely decades from being built

The hypersonic passenger plane could, in theory, fly as fast as Mach 5, or just under 3,900 miles per hour. That would allow the plane to carry passengers between Los Angeles and Tokyo in roughly three hours. A flight from New York to London could be as quick as two hours. Right now, those flights take about 11 hours and 7 hours, respectively.

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg is pushing the aerospace giant to explore the potential of ultra-fast passenger planes.

“I think in the next decade or two you’re going to see them become a reality,” Muilenburg told CNBC at the Paris Air Show last year. “We see future innovations where you could connect around the world in about two hours.”

How will Boeing and other aerospace companies build passenger planes that can safely fly between far-flung locations in just a few hours? The key will be the development of lightweight materials for the fuselage and new engines that will propel the jets at greater speeds. All of that will take years to be designed and tested.

Then there is the question of cost. How willing is Boeing to potentially spend billions of dollars over the next 20 to 30 years to build a hypersonic passenger plane? If the jet is built, will the costs be low enough to make it a profitable plane for airlines to fly on a regular basis?

John Plueger, president and CEO of AirLease Corp., has been skeptical of a hypersonic jet flying with airlines.

“It’s hard for me to see, at least in the next 15-20 years, that it’s going to be so cost competitive that it’s going to compel the airlines to take a stab at it,” he told CNBC last June.