Aerion, the supersonic-jet maker backed by Fort Worth billionaire Robert Bass, announced Tuesday that the flight-share company Flexjet has agreed to buy 20 of its planes as it decides on a site for its factory.
The deal will make Flexjet the initial fleet purchaser of the AS2 model, according to a statement released Tuesday at the National Business Aviation Association trade show in Las Vegas. Financial terms weren’t disclosed..
Aerion said Monday that it plans to choose a manufacturing site during the first half of next year as it targets delivering the first faster-than-sound business aircraft in 2023.
The timeline fleshes out how Aerion and partner Airbus Group intend to build a civilian plane capable of trans-sonic travel, a niche left vacant since the retirement of the Concorde in 2003. The team has made preliminary designs for a carbon-fiber wing structure, fuselage, landing gear and a fuel system, among other components.
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“We see clear and achievable technical solutions to the design of a supersonic jet, and a realistic road map for helping Aerion proceed toward construction and flight,” Airbus Senior Vice President Ken McKenzie said in a statement.
Airbus will provide major components and Aerion will do the final assembly, the companies said in the statement released at the National Business Aviation Association trade show in Las Vegas. For the production site, Aerion needs a 100-acre area near a U.S. airport with a runway at least 9,000 feet long, The plan is to break ground on the factory in 2018.
Aerion is targeting the first flight of the AS2 for 2021. The project began in 2002 and was put on hold by the 2008-09 financial crisis.
The collaboration with Airbus announced last year increases Aerion’s chances of building a private jet that can break the sound barrier. The AS2 is intended to fly efficiently at lower speeds over land because of flight restrictions related to sonic booms. Over oceans, the aircraft can accelerate to Mach 1.5, which is 1.5 times the speed of sound, or about 750 miles per hour at sea level.
While military jets have had supersonic capabilities for decades, the economics are daunting for civilian operations. High ticket prices helped do in the Concorde after 27 years of service, which slurped twice as much fuel as a Boeing jumbo jet while carrying only one-fourth as many passengers.
In the years since Air France and British Airways parked their Concordes, would-be supersonic jet developers have turned to business aircraft in hopes of putting newer technology in a smaller airframe to attract wealthy buyers and globe-trotting chief executive officers.
Aerion has begun to choose suppliers and plans to pick an engine maker during the first half of next year, CEO Doug Nichols said in the statement.