Private Jets Are Going Supersonic

Most buyers of a private jet want a craft that reflects their corporate or individual identity, according to Bud Ackerman, broker and owner of Private Jet Strategies.  Important factors include cabin size, interior layout, galley and lavatory fixtures, interior and exterior color. Another factor—probably foremost for alpha personalities—is speed.

Today owning a private jet as fast as any in the sky—about 650 mph or Mach .85—comes with a minimum price tag of about $45 million. (Less money buys only 500 mph and change.) Come 2023, however, this is expected to change in a big way—big in speed (Mach 1.5), big in price ($120 million).

corporate jetTo date, the only private aircraft capable of surpassing the speed of sound (about 750 mph a.k.a. Mach 1) have been the French Concorde and Russian Tupolev, both airliners now extinct. One reason is that the designs of these supersonic aircraft made them marginally profitable. For instance, the Concorde carried a quarter of the passengers of a Boeing jumbo jet while burning twice the fuel.

Problem two: the sonic boom. This thunderous noise is produced when a plane reaches Mach 1.  As a plane passes through the atmosphere, it creates air pressure waves that become closer together as the plane’s speed increases. At Mach 1 these waves merge into a shock wave that the plane leaves in its wake. It was because of sonic booms that the FAA restricted Concorde to overseas flights.

At the annual National Business Aviation Association conference held November 2015 in Las Vegas, Aerion Corporation announced that in 2018 it will begin manufacturing 20 pre-ordered supersonic private jets. In development for more than a decade, the AS2 will accommodate eight to 12 passengers and cruise at a speed approaching 1,000 mph. Mach 1.5 will trim about three hours off transatlantic flights and six hours or more time off longer trans-Pacific flights.

The twist of the AS2 is that it has a subsonic cruising mode just under Mach 1 for intra-continental travel. This versatility eliminates the sonic boom problem and makes the aircraft a more practical investment. Aerion’s vision is now shared by Airbus, which has become a partner in the venture, and Flexjet, the company that ordered 20 AS2s.  Flexjet sells shares in and charters jet aircraft.

Envisioned customers for the AS2 include billionaires, major corporations and charter jet operators. Certainly it will become the jet of choice for movers-and-shakers who want to fly overseas and return the same day.

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