Aerion chairman Brian Barents said at the Wichita Aero Club in late September that we are on the verge of a “new supersonic age” in air travel. In partnership with Airbus, Aerion is developing the Mach 1.5+ AS2 supersonic business jet (SSBJ), for which it expects to receive certification in 2023. Final assembly is likely to be conducted in the U.S., he revealed.
While the now-retired Concorde was “truly an awesome technical accomplishment, it was a financial failure that set back development of subsequent supersonic designs. No one could see an economically viable path forward for supersonic transports,” Barents noted. “Until Aerion, that is.”
With Concorde as a “cautionary tale,” he pointed out that a new generation of supersonic jets must be both “practical and efficient,” which Barents believes is possible with the AS2’s laminar wing technology. Because of its laminar wing, the AS2 can efficiently cruise at Mach 0.95 and Mach 1.4, allowing the aircraft to fly about 5,000 nm subsonic over land (as current regulations mandate) or supersonic over water.
The company’s market studies suggest a demand for 600 SSBJs over 20 years, even at the three-engine AS2’s $120 million price tag and with a restriction that the aircraft be operated subsonic over land, he noted. “For the first 10 to 15 years, the supersonic market will consist of entrepreneurs, ultra-high-net-worth individuals and, over time, more corporate customers, as well as perhaps governments,” Barents said. “These will be the pioneers of the new supersonic age.”
Noise Standards Key
Addressing the AS2’s powerplant, he said that Aerion is seeking an engine that meets Stage 4 noise and emissions standards and provides for growth. “We have had some fruitful discussions with the major engine suppliers,” Barents noted, “about which we hope to have more to say soon.”
He said the largest hurdle for the company is not sonic boom mitigation, but meeting airport noise standards. “Without a change to community noise regulations, a new generation of low-boom supersonic aircraft will literally not get off the ground,” Barents maintained. “That is why we are advocating in our discussions with NASA, the FAA and international bodies for new research aimed at the development of an appropriate noise standard for supersonic aircraft–one that provides level of noise reduction equivalent to that required of subsonic aircraft.”
This “physics based” approach is consistent with the “equivalent technology” and “economic reasonableness” principles that the FAA has employed in the noise-reduction requirements in current rules. “A new standard would enable the development of supersonic aircraft that are aerodynamically efficient, fuel efficient and minimize community noise emissions consistent with maintaining economic viability,” Barents said.
Meanwhile, Airbus “will play a large role in the development of the AS2,” he noted, adding that the consortium is “our OEM partner” and is with Aerion “to the finish line.” Barents also pointed to Airbus’ “significant U.S. resources,” saying that he would not be surprised to see the collaboration include Airbus divisions in the U.S. “Aerion will own the AS2 type certificate,” he said. “And we anticipate Aerion will conduct final assembly in the U.S., with extensive support from Airbus in engineering, manufacturing and certification.”