Boeing Is Aerion’s Latest Partner in Supersonic Passenger Jet Effort

Xconomy Seattle — 

Seattle may no longer be home to the NBA’s Supersonics, but one of the city’s anchor businesses, Boeing, announced this week it expects to play a key role in a company developing a jet for business travelers designed to fly at the speed of sound.

Boeing (NYSE: BA) is the latest big-name partner that Aerion, a Reno, NV-based company, has partnered with to co-develop Aerion’s ultra-fast and modern aircraft for long-distance travel. Boeing is headquartered in Chicago but has roots and large numbers of employees in the Seattle area.

Boeing says it has invested an undisclosed sum in Aerion, and plans to lend its expertise in engineering, manufacturing, and flight testing to aid Aerion’s effort to commercialize its AS2 jet. The jet is designed to ferry up to a dozen passengers at cruising speeds around 1,000 miles per hour, Aerion says. The company says it’s seeking to conduct its first test flight of an AS2 aircraft in 2023, and receive a certification from the FAA for the jet in 2025.

Boeing’s news release on its collaboration with Aerion mentions flights across the Atlantic Ocean, but it’s not clear whether the company’s vision also involves having the AS2 take frequent long-distance flights over land. Traveling at supersonic speeds can create sonic loud booms, which are audible to those on the ground and violate noise-level regulations in many places. These booms proved to be a major challenge for the high-tech but ultimately commercially unsuccessful Concorde, which reached supersonic speeds during flights starting in the 1970s. Aerion is reportedly developing technology that would prevent sonic booms when the AS2 is traveling at very high speeds.

“Through this partnership that combines Aerion’s supersonic expertise with Boeing’s global industrial scale and commercial aviation experience, we have the right team to build the future of sustainable supersonic flight,” Steve Nordlund, a vice president at Boeing, says in a prepared statement.

Aerion launched in 2003. Five years ago, the company announced plans to collaborate with Airbus, Boeing’s main competitor, on the AS2. In late 2017, Aerion said it was partnering with Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT), a large defense contractor. Aerion said at the time that its collaboration with Lockheed Martin would replace the one with Airbus.

Now, with Boeing entering the picture, Lockheed Martin will no longer work with Aerion on the AS2, according to a Forbes report.

However, some of the partners Aerion has brought on board to co-develop the supersonic jet remain. One is GE Aviation, a business unit of General Electric (NYSE: GE), which is developing the AS2’s engine, as Aerion announced in October. Another collaborator is Honeywell (NYSE: HON), which Aerion is working with to design the jet’s cockpit.

Other startups developing passenger aircraft for supersonic flight include Boston-based Spike Aerospace and Boom Technology, which is headquartered in the Denver area.