A Texas billionaire wants to build a supersonic business jet

Quick turnaround?
Quick turnaround?
Image: Courtesy Aerion
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A 12-seat business jet may be the  first civilian airplane to break the speed of sound since the Concorde’s last flight in 2003.

Aerion Corp., a plane maker backed by Texas billionaire Robert Bass, an heir of an oil fortune and the company’s chairman, this week said it plans to power its needle-nosed AS2 planes with General Electric engines. It’s a crucial piece of machinery that will propel the plane to top speeds of Mach 1.5, or one-and-a-half times the speed of sound. Elite travelers could fly from New York to London in a little over four hours, instead of around seven, or from San Francisco to Tokyo in just under seven hours compared to more than 10 hours on business jets today, the company said.

The AS2’s first flight is scheduled for 2023. Reno, Nevada-based Aerion has orders for 20 AS2s from fractional jet-ownership and leasing company Flexjet at a cost per plan of $120 million.

Bass isn’t the only billionaire keen to bring supersonic travel back to well-heeled civilians. Richard Branson’s Virgin Group has teamed up with Denver startup Boom Technology, which plans to make supersonic, trans-Atlantic travel available through commercial carriers for the cost of a business class ticket, at around $5,000. Virgin last year said it has an option to buy Boom’s  first 10 planes.

Both Virgin and Flexjet face hurdles ahead. The US government banned supersonic flights overland by civil aircraft in 1973 because of the noise they create. The speed of an aircraft traveling above the speed of sound creates a shockwave and explosion-like sound, known as a sonic boom.

Those restrictions mean the planes could only reach the top speeds when they’re over water, so forget about that speedy cross-country flight for now. NASA trying to develop a quieter supersonic plane.

Economics contributed to the demise of the Concorde. Tickets cost about $12,000 for a seat on the large, fuel-guzzling planes, a price that wasn’t feasible during the recession in 2001. Virgin and Flexjet are taking that into account by using much smaller planes. And passengers these days are likely to pay a premium to spend less time on an plane.