The Case for the Value of Time: Why the Supersonic Business Jet is Inevitable for the Future

(So here’s a little change of pace.  If you’ve ever wondered what an article for a scholarly journal looks like, here’s an example.   I’ll provide several excepts from the paper over the next few days – stay tuned!)

Background

The business aviation industry seems to be exhibiting a form of schizophrenia where the subject of supersonic business jets (SSBJs) is concerned these days.  Expressing skepticism in the January 2012 issue of Aviation International News, aviation commentator Matt Thurber pronounces a near death sentence on the SSBJ when he writes “(I)s there enough development money to support any supersonic business jet program? Will we ever see a production supersonic business jet? We believe that it’s highly unlikely…” (Thurber, 2012).  Yet only two months prior, at the Dubai Airshow in November 2011, the United Kingdom’s Hypermach Corporation proudly announced that their planned 20-seat SSBJ SonicStar, would be capable of speeds approaching Mach 4.0 by the time it reached certification in 2025 (Trautvetter, 2011).  Hypermach went on to boast that SonicStar’s speed and range would allow it to fly from New York to Dubai in 2 hours and 20 minutes and the aircraft would feature an electromagnetically-induced plasma wave that would absorb the shock wave responsible for the dreaded sonic boom – all for about $180 million per aircraft (Trauvetter, 2011).  In contrast to Hypermach’s optimistic announcement, Joe Lombardo, then president of Gulfstream Aerospace, downplayed his company’s interest in the SSBJ in an interview in late 2010, voicing uncertainty about the regulatory and environmental obstacles to the aircraft’s development and expressing his own skepticism that a market for the aircraft even existed (Garvey & Anselmo, 2010).  But Reno, Nevada-based Aerion would seem to disagree with Lombardo’s pronouncement.  The company unveiled its SSBJ design in 2004 at the National Business Aviation Association convention after conducting a market survey of more than 1,100 operators of large business aircraft and determining there was demand for at least 250-300 supersonic jets (Phillips, 2005).  As of the completion of the initial NASA testing on its patented natural laminar flow technology in late 2010, about the same time Lombardo was interviewed, the company held approximately 50 letters of intent with accompanying deposits for the $80 million-aircraft, comprising an order book worth over $4 billion (Norris, 2010).

So which viewpoint is correct?  Is the SSBJ viable?  Does a demand for such an aircraft exist?  Is the aircraft economically feasible?  Is the technology to implement it possible?

Or is the whole concept an excursion into mere fancy?

This researcher will argue that the future of the SSBJ is not only viable; it is to a certain degree, inevitable.

How to prove such a bold statement?  The evidence lies in the extant literature which resides in the public domain and scholarly sources.   This article will discuss the technological feasibility of the two designs which are currently the most visible in the industry, namely the Aerion SSBJ and the Hypermach SonicStar.  Since a discussion of supersonic flight would not be complete without some examination of the regulatory encumbrances, specifically where supersonic flight over land in the United States is concerned, those issues will be discussed as well.  We will see that while the FAA certainly allows for the possibility of changing the regulations to take new technologies into account, in the case of the Aerion SSBJ and the Hypermach SonicStar, such changes may not even be necessary.  Finally and most importantly, the questions of demand and economics will be addressed as will the economic value of time.  Business jets are, in essence, time machines.  They exist because their owners want or need to save time.  Faster jets mean more time savings.  Supersonic jets represent the greatest time savings of all.

 

References

Garvey, B., & Anselmo, J. (2010, October 18). AVIATION WEEK Interviews Gulfstream Aerospace President Joe Lombardo. Aviation Week and Space Technology.

Norris, G. (2010, October 18). Supersonic bizjet advances toward mach 2 wing test. Aviation Week and Space Technology, 42.

Phillips, E. H. (2005, November 7). Aerion Corp. execs confident their SSBJ can become a reality. Aviation Week and Space Technology, 70.

Thurber, M. (2012, January). AIN’s crystal ball. Aviation International News Online, , . Retrieved January 26, 2012, from http://www.ainonline.com/?q=aviation-news/aviation-international-news/2012-01-04/ains-crystal-ball

Trautvetter, C. (2011, November 15). HyperMach now shooting for mach 4.0 bizjet. Aviation International News Online, , . Retrieved January 26, 2012, from http://www.ainonline.com/?q=aviation-news/dubai-air-show/2011-11-12/hypermach-now-shooting-mach-40-bizjet