Demand for SSBJ is real, one market survey finds

 - December 14, 2006, 10:56 AM

According to Aerion market research, there is sufficient demand to proceed with development of the company’s proposed supersonic business jet (SSBJ). The Reno, Nevada-based firm publicly unveiled its SSBJ program last October at the National Business Aviation Association Convention in Las Vegas, saying the natural-laminar-wing aircraft could be in service by 2011.

“Leading corporations have told us conclusively that they attach a high value to speed. This should come as no surprise given the premium being paid today for the fastest subsonic jets and given the increasing travel by executives in a global economy,” said  Aerion chairman and lead investor Robert Bass.

Aerion’s research (conducted by I2) shows a market for 220 to 260 Aerion SSBJs over a 10-year period, with approximately 20 percent of sales coming from the fractional market. Production over a 20-year program life could exceed 500 units, Aerion noted.

According to the company, the study validated the supersonic twinjet’s cabin size, performance and $80 million target price. As proposed, the Aerion SSBJ has a stand-up 12-passenger cabin that falls between current super-midsize and large-cabin business jets.

The aircraft’s range exceeds 4,000 nm and its sea-level runway requirement is less than 6,000 feet. Aerion said its focus on aerodynamic efficiency results in a SSBJ with a 90,000-pound gross weight, which reduces not only costs but also aids in mitigating the supersonic boom signature.

Furthermore, Aerion said the study backs its concept of an aircraft that can cruise efficiently just below the speed of sound wherever supersonic flight is prohibited by current regulations and at supersonic speeds elsewhere.

I2 surveyed operators of business jets delivered from 1998 through 2003, including all large and intercontinental business jets, in addition to the Mach 0.92 Citation X. Survey participants included only executive decision makers or senior flight department personnel from leading companies.

Eighty-six percent of respondents were receptive to the Aerion concept, and 27 percent of respondents said they would buy the proposed Aerion design if it were currently available.

Interestingly, the possibility of a quiet supersonic aircraft design launched at the same time as the Aerion aircraft (see box) did not diminish purchase interest in the Aerion concept, according to the study. Those expressing the likelihood of purchasing the Aerion SSBJ did so on the basis of the concept’s attractive economics and earlier availability, as well as its lower technical, market and regulatory risk.

The operating cost per nautical mile for the Aerion supersonic business jet is also projected to compare favorably with large subsonic jets and to be only marginally higher than super-midsize jets with similar range and cabins.