Aerion is working on a Mach 4+ supersonic airliner for 50 passengers
Aerion is looking beyond the 2027 launch of its AS2 supersonic business jet for the ultra-rich, to something for the rest of us. The AS3TM, if it gets built, would be a 50-passenger supersonic commercial airliner capable of speeds over Mach 4.
That's at least twice the maximum speed of the venerable Concorde, and represents a ground speed somewhere over 3,000 mph (4,800 km/h). That would mean LA to Tokyo in under three hours, according to Aerion, instead of nearly 12 hours on today's airliners.
The AS3TM would have a range around 7,000 nautical miles (12,964 km, 8,055 miles). If that's a genuine, usable range figure and doesn't include mandated fuel reserves, it's enough to handle most long-haul routes outside the top 10 longest flights in the world. Aerion eventually wants to let people travel between any two points on the globe in three hours or less.
The company says this supersonic airliner "is targeted to take to the skies before the end of the decade," but the hurdles between here and your first Mach 4 plane ticket are substantial. Firstly, there's the issue of regulations, which, as we discussed with Gene Holloway, Aerion's Chief Sustainability Officer and Executive VP Environment & Sustainability last year, won't be allowing supersonic flight over land any time soon. Even transonic flight using boomless cruise technology is still up in the air.
Then there's the market. The long-term financial effects of COVID-19 on the aviation industry are still unknown, but certainly one of them is that the world as a whole is now very comfortable with doing business online instead of face to face. Will it pick back up and exceed previous levels before the end of the decade? It's hard to say.
Still, this will be a premium offering, and the fact that anyone flies first class at all demonstrates pretty clearly that there are plenty of people out there willing to pay many times the economy ticket price for a little extra comfort. We're sure there are some deranged lunatics out there that actually enjoy 12-hour flights, but for the rest of us, a supersonic option that cut it down to the length of a single movie and a trip to the bathroom might look attractive at any price.
Aerion is well-funded, with Boeing on board as an investor/partner and billionaire Robert Bass its founder. Its new office building, under construction in Melbourne, Florida, is a US$300 million facility. The AS2 business jet has already made at least US$10 billion worth of pre-sales at US$120 million a pop. So the AS3TM is certainly within the realms of possibility. We'll learn more about the aircraft later this year. Check out a video below.