As Aerion Supersonic targets the middle of the decade for first flight of its AS2 supersonic business jet and service entry by 2027, the company is taking a multi-decade view of its business plan with aspirations to build an AS3 that would dwarf the size of the business jet, move into hybrid and all-electric power, and eventually offer hypersonic aircraft. All the while, its Aerion Connect initiative would enable an ecosystem approach for the customer to reach the destination from door-to-door, rather than airport-to-airport.
Speaking during the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Aviation Forum this morning, Aerion Supersonic chairman, president, and CEO Tom Vice outlined this vision, saying, “We believe that we are building a future where humanity can travel between any two major city pairs within three hours. We know this is going to take a multi-decade approach [involving] hard technical challenges…It’s about building an entire ecosystem not just the airplane from point to point.”
Describing supersonic as Aerion’s “starting point,” Vice updated the efforts on the GE Affinity-powered Mach 1.4 AS2 business jet, saying it has “made significant progress” in the last two years. However, principal design review has been pushed into 2021 and first flight has slid on the $120 million, 12-place aircraft with plans to fly it from the company’s new complex that will be built in Melbourne, Florida, in 2025, with certification following within two years. “The pandemic has slowed us down a bit,” he said.
The company added in a statement that "In light of the impact of COVID-19 on our industry... we have taken proactive measures on reprioritizing workflow to maintain continuity on the AS2 program." Even so, Vice indicated plans to step up engineering hiring later this year or early next in multiple disciplines.
Plans call for use of five flight-test aircraft for the program.
While now shorter, the recent redesign of the AS2 preserved cabin space, which he said will equate to that of a Bombardier Global 6500 or a Gulfstream G600, have the “quietest cabin in the industry and lowest cabin altitude,” and be equipped with amenities such as OLED surfaces, immersive high-fidelity sound with 4k/8k video, large dimmable windows, and “ultra-fast” connectivity.
Aerion already sees a sizeable market for the airplane, particularly from large fractional and other business aviation services providers, including Flexjet, its largest and launch customer. He also sees a market from NetJets, VistaJet, and Wheels Up, along with high-net-worth individuals, heads of state, and corporations, although Vice said that he believes the latter is trending now more toward fractional and other models rather than whole ownership.
Aerion, citing a potential $40 billion market for the AS2, now has a $3.18 billion order backlog and is in discussions for orders valued at another $6.2 billion, he said.
With a strong emphasis on sustainability, the aircraft will be built to run 100 percent on synthetic fuels, as well as traditional fuels. On the synthetic side, Aerion is focused on the use of direct air capture technology that converts carbon dioxide from the air into usable fuels. “The technology really is huge,” he said. This approach enables factories to have smaller footprints and to be built and accessible anywhere, Vice said, but conceded the cost of the final product is still an issue.
Longer range, Aerion would like to push into full electric for its product lines, but Vice said a hybrid-electric approach would likely be the next logical step. While not detailing its next product, he did show an overlay of the AS3, likely a much larger commercial airplane. Aerion also is in discussions about military applications.
Much further out, Aerion sees possibilities for hypersonics and said progress has been made on reaching near hypersonic in the range in the Mach 4 to 4.5 range. This speed is the ultimate vision of getting passengers anywhere around the world within three hours, Vice said.
As far as the ecosystem, Aerion has established an Aerion Connect strategy that looks at transportation means such as the use of eVOLs to get customers to and from the airport to provide a smoother, faster experience from beginning to end.
In all, Aerion sees a market value of nearly a half-trillion dollars for these types of vehicles, Vice said.