Boeing has partnered with American startup Aerion to develop a passenger plane capable of achieving speeds up to Mach 1.4.
The new AS2 supersonic business jet would be able to reduce trans-Atlantic flight times by three hours. As Aerion puts it, “Make Paris to New York a day trip.”
Civilian supersonic transport, or crafts designed to transport passengers at speeds greater than the speed of sound, is an old dream of the aeronautic industry. Commercial operation of supersonic passenger planes started in the late 70s with the Tupolev and the Concorde, but a cocktail of drawbacks – small profit margins, excessive development and operational costs, noisy takeoffs, expensive fares, the crash of Air France Flight 4590 and the general commercial aviation crisis after the September 11 attacks – kicked supersonic commercial services out of the game.
In 2003, British Airways and Air France announced they would retire the Concorde that year, and Air France’s final Concorde flight took place on the June 27 of that year.
But the industry is revitalising the idea of supersonic travel once more with many companies developing improved technologies and redefining the business model.
In 2017, Nevada-based startup Aerion Supersonic dropped a partnership with Lockheed Martin for undisclosed reasons and has since earned the backing of mammoth commercial player Boeing.
Boeing will continue to invest in the new company and offer their engineering, design and manufacturing expertise to the project.
“Boeing made a significant investment in Aerion to accelerate technology development and aircraft design, and unlock supersonic air travel for new markets,” Aerion said in a press release.
Their plan is to put the Aerion AS2 supersonic business jet in operation by 2023. The upcoming aircraft will fly at speeds up to Mach 1.4 – that’s an insane 1700 km/h – will be able to carry 12 passengers and has a list price of a whopping $120 million.
“This is a strategic and disciplined leading-edge investment in further maturing supersonic technology,” said Steve Nordlund, vice president and general manager of Boeing NeXt.
“Through this partnership that combines Aerion’s supersonic expertise with Boeing’s global industrial scale and commercial aviation experience, we have the right team to build the future of sustainable supersonic flight.”
The announcement rattled the industry, pushing Boeing stock past the $400-a-share milestone to the record high of US$410.72 at time of writing.
It looks like the race to beat the speed of sound is heating up again, with Lockheed Martin also working on a supersonic jet that entered production back in November. Boeing also has separate development plans for an aircraft reportedly able to travel faster than Mach 5.