Billionaire Bass's supersonic jet dream wins Boeing backing

The first flight for the plane - which, at about 1,000 miles per hour, will cruise 70 percent faster than today's quickest business jets - is scheduled for 2023
Billionaire Bass's supersonic jet dream wins Boeing backing
Aerion’s AS2 aircraft to fly faster than the speed of sound while meeting noise and emissions rules.
By Bloomberg
Thu 07 Feb 2019 09:42 AM

Boeing is joining with Aerion, a startup founded by Texas billionaire Robert Bass, to help build a supersonic business jet that would cut trans-Atlantic flight times by three hours.

The US aerospace giant will make a “significant investment” in Aerion to accelerate design and development, according to a statement Tuesday. Boeing will replace Lockheed Martin Corp, which had announced a partnership with Aerion in 2017, a spokesman for the supersonic-jet company said.

Boeing’s funding buoys Bass’s dream of restoring supersonic civilian flight, which ended in 2003 with the final voyage of Europe’s Concorde amid noise restrictions and high operating costs. General Electric Co. in October said it completed an initial engine design for Aerion’s AS2 aircraft to fly faster than the speed of sound while meeting noise and emissions rules.

“We have the right team to build the future of sustainable supersonic flight,” said Steve Nordlund, vice president of Boeing’s NeXt investment unit, citing Aerion’s supersonic expertise and his company’s scale and commercial-aviation experience.

First flight

Boeing said it would provide engineering, manufacturing and flight-test resources to bring the AS2 to market. While the amount of its investment wasn’t disclosed, Boeing gained two seats on Aerion’s five-person board to represent its interests.

The new directors are Mike Sinnett, who heads product strategy and future airplane development for Boeing’s commercial business; and Ken Shaw, who oversees the supply chain for the company’s new global-services division.

News of the investment helped propel Boeing shares to a record. The stock climbed 3.3 percent to $410.18 at the close in New York, the largest gain on the 30-member Dow Jones Industrial Average.

The first flight for the plane - which, at about 1,000 miles per hour, will cruise 70 percent faster than today’s quickest business jets - is scheduled for 2023. Launch customer Flexjet, which sells fractional ownership in aircraft, has ordered 20 of the models. Aerion’s 12-passenger model has a list price of $120 million.

Flexjet is considering adding more aircraft to its order, Chairman Kenn Ricci said by telephone. The specifications of the aircraft have improved, making the AS2 more versatile and a better fit with Flexjet’s model of giving multiple customers access to fly in the plane, Ricci said without providing details.

“We see it as a spectacular, unique product,” Ricci said. “We’re very happy with the position we’re in. I think this leadership team is spectacular.”

The investment is a reminder of Boeing’s roots in aircraft that travel well beyond the sound barrier. The Chicago-based manufacturer invested heavily in its own supersonic-transport program a half-century ago -- the 747 jumbo jet was considered a side project to the so-called SST at the time -- before the U.S. government ultimately canceled funding.

Boeing also is plowing funding into hypersonic aircraft that would travel faster than Mach 5, or more than five times the speed of sound. The company last year revealed development of a passenger prototype capable of cruising at 3,800 mph or more.

The company’s HorizonX venture capital arm also has invested in Reaction Engines, a U.K. company developing a propulsion system for both hypersonic flights and space voyages at Mach 25.

Boeing is the first planemaker to commit funds as well as engineering and manufacturing expertise to Aerion. Airbus SE joined as a partner in 2014 to help with design and possibly manufacturing, then was replaced by Lockheed three years later. Neither of those companies invested directly in the venture.

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