Billionaire’s Supersonic Private-Jet Plan Hits Engine Snag

  • Robert Bass-backed Aerion to choose power plant next year
  • Company considers two dozen civil and military engines

AS2 concept

Source: Aerion Corp.

Aerion Corp., backed by Texas billionaire Robert Bass, has hit a snag in one of the most crucial milestones toward building the first business jet able to fly faster than the speed of sound.

The selection of an engine supplier for the plane, which Bass once said would occur in the first half of this year, is now expected to come in 2017, said Jeff Miller, a spokesman for the Reno, Nevada-based company.

Aerion is “making good progress,’’ Miller said Tuesday in an interview during the National Business Aviation Association conference in Orlando, Florida. “We’re taking the time to get to the best decision for all parties.’’ Chief Executive Officer Doug Nichols declined to comment.

Falling short of the engine goal underscores the difficulty of Aerion’s challenge. The aircraft, known as the AS2, would be the first supersonic civilian plane since Concorde flights were halted in 2003. Aerion’s efforts gained momentum when Airbus Group SE agreed in 2014 to help design and produce the plane, and a fractional-jet ownership company last year ordered 20.

Engine Talks

Aerion has considered two dozen engines from various manufacturers, including for civil and military aircraft. The choice is narrowing to a derivative of a civil aircraft power plant that’s already in use, Miller said. He declined to say with whom Aerion is holding discussions.

Supersonic travel isn’t allowed over the U.S. and many other countries because of disruption from sonic booms, which occur when a craft exceeds the speed of sound. Aerion plans to operate the jet just below supersonic levels over land and increase velocity over the ocean to Mach 1.5, or 1.5 times the speed of sound.

Initial fleet purchaser Flexjet, the fractional aircraft operator that announced an order for 20 AS2s at last year’s business aviation conference, said it wasn’t privy to the engine negotiations. Kenneth Ricci, principal of Flexjet owner Directional Aviation, said he hoped Aerion would announce an engine choice soon. According to an industry adage, time kills deals.

“The longer these things take to come to fruition the less likely they become,’’ Ricci said in an interview last week. “We’re hoping they move along.”

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