As supersonic aircraft designer Aerion ceased operations over a lack of available funding, GE Aviation has confirmed that it has discontinued development work on the twin-shaft, medium-bypass Affinity engine that was to have powered the Mach 1.4 Aerion AS2 business jet. GE Aviation also noted that it is redeploying its Affinity team to other programs.
The engine-maker announced plans in October 2018 to move forward with the Affinity for the AS2, saying it would be designed using a “proven engine core adapted from GE’s commercial airline portfolio” with the latest technology full authority digital engine control, an advanced twin-fan, durable combustor, and advanced acoustic technology that would meet or exceed regulatory requirements.
The Affinity, which GE Aviation said would be part of a family in the 16,000- to 20,000-pound-thrust range, was widely believed to have borrowed from the CF56 core while adopting features from its new Passport business jet engine.
GE Aviation did not elaborate beyond acknowledging that work had ceased on the Affinity, but it did note that it remains involved in the supersonic realm with the delivery last year of its F414-GE-100 engine for the NASA X-59 Quiet Supersonic Technology demonstrator. The company handed over two of the 13-foot-long engines, including one that would serve as a backup.
The move comes as competitor Rolls-Royce is expanding its reach into the would-be supersonic market, collaborating with Boom Supersonic under a so-called engagement agreement on the Overture airliner.
It also comes after GE Aviation has eliminated at least 13,000 positions over the past year as it has grappled with the reverberations of the Covid-19 pandemic on the airline industry.
The surprise announcement on Friday that Aerion was ceasing operations left some insiders wondering whether this chapter was not over—particularly since it was not a bankruptcy filing and investors in the firm had been well-capitalized. Also, possibilities might exist through the use of Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs) or through an angel investor.
However, Rolland Vincent, JetNet iQ creator/director and president of Rolland Vincent Associates, added that the cessation of the engine program would be a “show-stopper,” saying, “the AS2 doesn’t exist without the engine.”
Vincent remains convinced that “the market is clearly there” for a supersonic airplane, adding, “Pricing has been established. The technology does not require any leaps of faith. Capital is cheap and [I thought] generally available.”
He further called the move a setback for the supersonic business jet segment in particular and “a big surprise, for sure, as there has been so much momentum with [Aerion chairman] Tom Vice and his leadership.”
Richard Aboulafia, v-p of analysis for the Teal Group, agreed, questioning whether the demise of Aerion could serve as a “category killer” and saying, “SSBJs were the only appealing form of civil supersonics, and Aerion was always ahead of the pack. What are the chances that anyone will eagerly acquire Spike, Boom, or any of the others? This weekend might be remembered as a kind of Supersonics Big Chill.”
He also questioned the options beyond a SPAC, saying, “I don’t see a Plan D.” He noted Boeing marked a third exit from a partnership with Aerion, following Airbus and Lockheed Martin.
As for Boeing, which is believed to have had a substantial financial investment and stake in Aerion but also has suffered from the pandemic, as well as the Max, said, “While we are disappointed Aerion could not secure additional funding to continue their work, we remain committed to working with innovative and creative partners who, like Aerion, continue to push limits on groundbreaking technology.”