Despite the well wishes of companies like Boeing and Airbus, innovation in the aviation industry has remained at a relative standstill, showing up more often in blueprints and patents than an actual prototypes on a physical runway. Though to the delight of deep-pocketed businessmen and women across the globe, a tangible breakthrough appears to be on the horizon.
Just this past week at the National Business Aviation Association’s Convention & Exposition, private aviation firm Flexjet officially announced it placed a confirmed order of 20 AS2 supersonic jets from airplane manufacturer, Aerion. There is a catch, however; the jet has yet to actually be built. Under construction in partnership with Airbus, Aerion doesn’t expect to even begin test flights of an AS2 until 2021, with a following introduction into service by 2023. So what makes this stand out from literally every other patent for a hyper speed jet?
Well, according to Flexjet chairman Kenn Ricci, Aerion and Airbus’ technology and performance capabilities regarding the AS2’s engine will likely be “game-changers for business travel.” Ricci continues, “Aerion and Airbus Group are moving forward impressively with the AS2’s development.”
While this doesn’t provide an exact reason outside of “it looks great” pertaining to the actual progress, it’s safe to say Flexjet — one of the world’s foremost private jet companies — wouldn’t agree to buy twenty $120 million jets without good reason. Perhaps one of the best things going for Aerion is its partnership with Airbus, a company that’s also trying its hand at developing hypersonic jets.
Aside from the production process, there’s no getting around just how attractive the AS2 would be should it see the light of day. Able to fly at a reported top speed of Mach 1.5 (67 percent faster than current subsonic planes), the jet would have the capacity to carry anywhere from eight to twelve passengers at a time. With a range of roughly 4,750 nautical miles at supersonic speed, the AS2’s primary use will be for intercontinental travel, and Aerion claims it has the ability to save three hours on trans-Atlantic flights, and over six hours on trans-Pacific routes.
Under the hood, the AS2 plans to make use of Supersonic Natural Laminar Flow, a technology that makes the jet environmentally responsible, efficient, and flexible in terms of its operational utility. Developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the technology’s performance has undergone a wealth of different tests from none other than NASA. Ideally, SNLF conserves fuel and dramatically reduces the emissions seen in other supersonic jet designs. Because of this, the SNLF tech remains one of the key characteristics pointing towards success for Aerion and Flexjet’s partnership.
Don’t get too excited, though — those advantages don’t come without their own set of caveats. While Ricci glowed about the partnership with Aerion, he did admit the plane would be incredibly expensive to operate. For starters, its long length prohibits it from taking off and landing at some airports, thus clamping down a bit on its flexibility. However, where the price really skyrockets is with its gas consumption as Aerion predicts the three-engine jet to reportedly guzzle some 1,000 gallons of fuel per hour (despite utilizing SNLF tech). It doesn’t take a math whiz to realize just how expensive a ticket to ride might cost once the AS2 hits the skies.
The thing is, an exorbitant price tag likely won’t steer Flexjet’s existing customer base away from reserving flights on the AS2 (they are a private luxury jet business, after all), and the company also announced it plans on designing the interior to reflect its “premium” tradition. Much like Flexjet’s recent Red Label fleet, the company intends to craft incredibly unique decor and upholstery it deems “stunning” to put the AS2 in a literal class of its own.
For now, Aerion remains committed to manufacturing the revolutionary jet engine with Airbus and doesn’t expect to have an operational model ready until 2021. So for now, the 1% will just have to keep flying in their boring old subsonic private jets.