Will BizAv See Supersonic Jets Anytime Soon?

As exciting an idea as supersonic aircraft are within the Business Aviation industry, Brian Foley believes there are a few good reasons why they won’t be appearing in the pre-owned market anytime soon...

Brian Foley  |  06th June 2024
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    Brian Foley
    Brian Foley

    Brian Foley formed Brian Foley Associates (BRiFO) in 2006 to assist aerospace firms and investors with...

    Boom Overtue Supersonic Jet concept

    Supersonic business jets, like eVTOLs, are topics that excite those within and outside of the industry. Having been involved in supersonic market studies both independently and with an aircraft manufacturer, I firmly believe there’s a market for around 30 supersonic jets per year over 10 years, even at eye-bulging prices of $150m-plus.

    So, with more advanced technologies and efficiency than the previous supersonic Concorde airliner and investors bankrolling some startup hopefuls, why aren’t they here yet? Let’s start with the good news first, as most of us would like to see the concept eventually succeed...

    Supersonic Aircraft Development Progress

    NASA recently rolled out its X-59 quiet supersonic demonstrator which was designed to conduct research into producing a “quiet” sonic boom that would be palatable to those hearing it on the ground, compared to the thundering booms produced by older technology aircraft.

    Manufacturers can later incorporate lessons learned from these experiments to make their products more marketable by being able to fly supersonically over land, which is currently prohibited due to the loud, startling booms.

    Boom Supersonic, one civil supersonic aircraft contender, recently flew its XB-1 demonstrator (pictured left) for the first time. While not a subscale version of its proposed design, it will nonetheless be used to validate and dial-in several technologies.

    The company claims 35 orders and 156 options for its eventual article named Overture from the likes of United, American and Japan Airlines.

    Despite these milestones, a plethora of practical challenges remain before a civil supersonic program ever sees the light of day.

    Supersonic Aircraft Development Costs

    One can’t ignore the development and certification costs of bringing a clean sheet design to market. While OEMs have suggested it being a $6-8bn endeavor, others believe it will be closer to $10-15bn.

    The amounts raised from the investment community to date have been a mere fraction of this. When Aerion, the once arguable leader of the segment, couldn’t raise its next tranche of investment, it was forced to shutter operations.

    Supersonic Business Jet Engine Requirements

    Name-brand engine manufacturers have been reluctant lately to make a huge investment in a relatively low-volume program. These engines must be quiet, durable and have favorable performance and emissions characteristics to be successful in this market.

    At a time when Business Aviation is being criticized by activists for their relatively high CO2 emissions per passenger, a supersonic aircraft would further raise these amounts.

    Although these aircraft would be designed to run on Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), protestors have already prepared counterarguments, including water vapor and nitrous oxide emissions, which they argue affects climate warming and the ozone layer.

    What’s the Future for Supersonic Business Jets?

    Despite these challenges plus a myriad of others, one plausible path forward would be if a government were to determine that a supersonic transport was needed to quickly move its leaders, elite forces or equipment around the world at a moment’s notice.

    Only the military would have the kind of resources needed to execute such a program. But this would also have the added benefit of removing the onus from manufacturers of having to raise their own outside funds.

    A civil variant could later be introduced, based on the military program with much of the costs and development risk already out of the way.

    For these reasons, don’t expect to see pre-owned supersonic jet listings in AvBuyer any time soon.

    Nonetheless, while the odds are long and seemingly insurmountable, there’s a probability – albeit rather low for now – that it will become a reality eventually. Until then, civil supersonic programs will progress at the subsonic speed of regulation, technology, and – most importantly – money.

    MI: www.brifo.com

    To read more articles in June’s Market Indicators section, click the button below to access the latest AvBuyer digital edition FREE of charge…

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    Brian Foley

    Brian Foley

    Editor, Market Intelligence

    Brian Foley formed Brian Foley Associates (BRiFO) in 2006 to assist aerospace firms and investors with strategic research. In addition to his work as Market Intelligence Editor, AvBuyer, he is a regular contributor for Forbes.com and his views are published in the media worldwide.

    Currently, Brian serves the Transportation Research Board as a member of the Business Aviation, helicopter, commercial airline and UAV system subcommittees, and he previously served on the Wall Street financial firm Board.

    Before starting his consultancy business, Brian was marketing director at Dassault Falcon Jet for 20 years, and started his career at Boeing. He is an instrument-rated private pilot.



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