Billionaire Robert Bass’s dream of building a private supersonic jet is poised to get a boost from one of the world’s top engine makers: General Electric .
Aerion Corp. is in talks with GE to power what could be the first nonmilitary plane to fly faster than the speed of sound since Concorde flights were halted in 2003, according to a statement Monday by the Bass-backed aircraft start-up.
The discussions represent a step toward resolving a major obstacle in Aerion’s plan to develop a jet that could shave three hours off trans-Atlantic trips -- and shorten flights across the Pacific by six. Aerion, which already has a committed buyer for its AS2 plane, has been working with the engine manufacturers to meet noise restrictions and fly economically at speeds both slower and faster than the sound barrier.
“The two companies will continue to participate in a formal and gated process to define a potential collaboration for an AS2 engine,” GE and Aerion said in a statement Monday. GE makes jet engines for large commercial aircraft producers, including Boeing Co. and Airbus SE planes.
Aerion’s effort to build a supersonic business jet gained momentum in 2014 when Airbus agreed to help design and produce the plane. The following year Flexjet, a fractional-jet ownership company, placed an order for 20 AS2 aircraft.
GE said a final agreement hasn’t been reached. “We welcome their vision and are excited to continue discussions on engine configuration,” said Brad Mottier, GE’s vice president for business aviation.
Speed of Sound
Aerion envisions a plane that will fly at a top speed of Mach 1.5, or 1.5 times the speed of sound, over water while staying just under the sound barrier when over land to avoid sonic booms. Backlash against the booms and engine noise eventually killed flights by the Concorde, which first went into service in 1976.
Aerion’s challenge is to sell enough of the AS2 aircraft to offset the investment required to develop costly components, with the engine being the most expensive. The list price of the plane is $120 million.
Aerion began working on the plane in 2003 only to see its plans interrupted by the 2008-2009 recession, which caused demand for corporate jets to plummet. Last year, business-jet shipments were 657, more than 40 per cent lower than the peak of 1,136 in 2008, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co.