Commentary: NetJets Makes High Speed Move Into Supersonic Jets

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

Competition in the fractional jet ownership business is getting fiercer, as the biggest players, Berkshire Hathaway’s NetJets, and its main competitor Flexjet, prepare to spend billions on the return of supersonic flight for the business jet market.

Supersonic flight will give these companies a substantial competitive advantage over commercial airlines in their competition for first class customers, especially for long distance overseas flights.

The new supersonic business jets will fall into an interesting category of jets that will have a decided advantage over other private jets, but will be too expensive for most people to own outright.

While the supersonic business jet market offers opportunity, it also comes at a high cost, with the price of each jet at over $100 million.

That’s the perfect opening for fractional ownership companies to plot their growth.

In 2015, Flexjet became the first fractional jet ownership company to place a firm order for the jets, when they ordered twenty of Aerion’s AS2 aircraft.

Now, Aerion has made an expansive collaboration with NetJets and FlightSafety International, two Berkshire Hathaway companies, which will be sure to impact the private jet market.

Underlining the long-term focus of the partnership, NetJets has also obtained purchase rights for 20 AS2 supersonic business jets.

Aerion will start production at Aerion Park in Melbourne, Florida in 2023.

With significant growth achieved through 2020 and 2021, Aerion’s global order backlog for the AS2 is now valued at more than USD $10 billion. The new AS2—the first supersonic aircraft to enter commercial service in 51 years and the world’s first supersonic business aircraft— continues to advance toward manufacturing start after concluding wind tunnel validation late last year.

“As the leader in private aviation, we constantly look for ways to be on the cutting-edge, and expanding our fleet to become the exclusive business jet operator for Aerion Connect is a thrilling next step,” said Adam Johnson, Chairman and CEO of NetJets Inc. “Together, we will be exploring the integration of the AS2 supersonic business jet into NetJets’ global network, and we are honored to be their chosen partner to enable the Aerion Connect vision.”

Aerion will explore NetJets’ becoming the exclusive business jet operator for the global mobility platform, Aerion Connect. A vision for a future global mobility ecosystem, Aerion Connect will integrate multiple, currently siloed urban and regional networks and provide a seamless point-to-point travel experience, optimized for speed and luxury across multiple modes of transportation.

In collaboration with FlightSafety International, the premier professional aviation training company, Aerion will also develop a supersonic flight training academy for civil, commercial, and military supersonic aircraft. The Aerion-branded facility will channel FSI’s comprehensive global training expertise to provide a center of excellence for supersonic flight training and education, shaping the flight crews of the future.

The supersonic planes will give corporate leaders and other high-end travelers a compelling reason to consider fractional ownership. Even cross-country travel, which draws additional concerns about sonic booms, will be faster.

Aerion claims that its Boomless Cruise flight is feasible at speeds up to Mach 1.2, depending on atmospheric conditions, principally temperature and wind.

The company hopes that the U.S. will adopt International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards, permitting supersonic speeds over the U.S. Supersonic flights are currently prohibited.

Aerion claims that at speeds around Mach 1.2 a “sonic boom would, essentially, dissipate before reaching the ground.”

The Aerion AS2

The Aerion AS2 is a three-engine jet and is larger than the originally conceived Aerion supersonic business jet. Fuselage length is 160 feet and maximum takeoff weight is 115,000 pounds. Minimum projected range is 4,750 nautical miles with the intention to achieve a range of more than 5,000 nautical miles.

The aircraft will have a 30-foot cabin in a two-lounge layout plus galley and both forward and aft lavatories, plus a baggage compartment that is accessible in-flight. Cabin dimensions widen from entryway to the aft seating area where height is six feet, two inches and cabin width is seven feet, three inches.

Carrying eight to 12 passengers, the AS2 has an intercontinental-capable range of 4,750 nautical miles at supersonic speed.

One thing that is clear, only the strongest of the fractional ownership companies will be able to compete in this market, giving them a clear advantage over smaller charter companies, and a major capability advantage over commercial airlines.

© 2021 David Mazor