While we all appreciate comforts and luxuries when we travel, the saying ‘time is money’ remains true for many business travellers. It may now be hard to remember back to when it was normal to book a supersonic flight from London or Paris to New York cutting the flying time down to under three hours – a true example of time is money: the convenience of a more expensive direct flight over a cheaper multi-stop journey is currently the less sexy example of the definition.
Many businesses took advantage of Concorde to get across the Atlantic and back in a day to finalise deals and avoid jetlag, while the rich and famous used the aircraft simply because they could. The big problem was that Concorde was never economically viable and it certainly wasn’t environmentally friendly.
It was noisy for starters, whether taking off, landing or going through the sound barrier and it got a lot of complaints. Many countries banned it from operating in their airspace because of the sonic booms. There were also worries about the damage it was making to the ozone layer and atmospheric pollution.
When the environment and sustainability are centre of all advancements, can we realistically see a son of Concorde grace our skies? It is now over 52 years since the supersonic airliner made its maiden flight so that could perhaps be a great grandson, and that ‘great’ could be especially echoed by corporate travellers if plans to debut a new era in commercial flight takes us beyond the realms of supersonic speeds.
Concorde had a maximum speed over twice the speed of sound, at Mach 2.04 and was able to accommodate around 100 passengers. A number of businesses have proposed programmes to introduce a new fast and luxurious way to travel and claim that they will address environmental concerns. While many of these will have around half the number of seats, they are expected to travel at faster speeds over longer ranges.
In the past weeks we have seen the first glimpse of another of these proposed new supersonic airliners, the Aerion AS3TM. With a proposed speed twice that offered by Concorde the Mach 4+ commercial jet could signify an entirely new era in scheduled flight, enabling flight between say Los Angeles and Tokyo to complete in less than three hours.
The AS3TM Mach 4+ commercial airliner is targeted to take to the skies before the end of the current decade and build upon the AS2 supersonic business jet to bring Aerion’s innovation to commercial air transportation. Aerion’s pursuit of faster point-to-point travel will begin with the launch of the AS2 which could commence production as early as 2023.
With conceptualisation and design work underway and built around input from potential customers, Aerion plans for the AS3TM to incorporate revolutionary advances in technology to improve efficiency and reduce the environmental impact of supersonic flight, with the capability to transport up to 50 passengers at a range of 7,000 nautical miles.
Earlier this year Aerion expanded its ongoing partnership with NASA’s Langley Research Center, with the intention of accelerating the realisation of commercial high-speed flight and faster point-to-point travel, specifically studying commercial flight in the Mach 3-5 range.
“At Aerion, our vision is to build a future where humanity can travel between any two points on our planet within three hours. Supersonic flight is the starting point, but it is just that – the beginning. To truly revolutionise global mobility as we know it today, we must push the boundaries of what is possible” says Aerion’s chairman, president & CEO, Tom Vice.
While 2020 was a year to forget for commercial air travel it marked an important milestone in the development of the Aerion AS2 supersonic business jet with the completion of wind tunnel testing on the aircraft’s design. This process represented a simulation of the equivalent of 78,000 nautical miles of flight for the 8-12 seat aircraft.
The aircraft will not match the speeds of the AS3TM, it will not even travel as fast as Concorde, but it will represent a key step in the journey to the successful arrival of a Concorde descendant. Aerion’s Tom Vice describes it as the “next step in our long-term technology roadmap and will bring Aerion’s high Mach flight capability to a broader audience”.
The AS2 has secured a significant endorsement in recent months with corporate jet fractional ownership giant NetJets, backed by American multinational conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway, agreeing purchase rights for 20 AS2s. This is a huge vote of confidence in the return of supersonic air transport. NetJets chairman and CEO, Adam Johnson, calls it a “thrilling next step” to the operator’s growth.
Aerion and NetJets have also signed an exploratory agreement for NetJets to become the exclusive business jet partner for Aerion Connect, which Aerion describes as “urban and regional networks to provide a seamless point-to-point experience optimised for speed and luxury across multiple modes of transportation.”
After a year of bad news this represents an exciting development. It remains to be seen how Aerion plans to ramp up from the AS2 to the AS3TM, but it promises more details will be shared on the AS3TM design later this year. There will be a lot of people interested in seeing its ambitions to deliver on its promise to go beyond supersonic.