Robert Bass-backed company’s plan for supersonic private jet hits engine snag

Aerion AS3

Aerion Corp., backed by Texas billionaire Robert Bass, has hit a snag in the crucial task of selecting an engine maker to build a business jet that exceeds the speed of sound.

The dream of producing the first civil aircraft to fly at supersonic velocity since the Concorde was canceled in 2003 gained momentum when Airbus Group agreed in 2014 to help design and produce the plane. A fractional-jet ownership company last year ordered 20 of the aircraft, known as the AS2.

Bass in 2015 said the company expected to announce an engine partner in the first half of this year. Aerion now expects to reach an agreement in 2017, said Jeff Miller, a spokesman for the Reno, Nevada-based company.

The company is “making good progress,” he 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.

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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 but, according to 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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