Ron Rapp proposes a return to supersonic passenger flight in his “Blogging in Formation” post today. While commercial supersonic flight ended with Concorde’s grounding in 2003, Ron proposes that corporate aviation is on the verge of supersonic growth.
While I applaud his optimistic approach, and would love to see supersonic corporate jets become a legitimate emerging market, I just don’t see it happening in any realistic timeline. Supersonic travel is the domain of military aircraft where passengers are few (one or two pilots) and budgets are nearly indefinite. As Ron points out, the slim aircraft bodies required, and large fuel expenditures needed, make the leap above the speed of sound unprofitable for commercial air travel. Furthermore, sonic booms discourage domestic flights above Mach 1. City pairs that can benefit from supersonic travel are limited to those separated by an ocean.
So why would corporations want to buy jets that save a few hours of flying time in exchange for breaking their travel budgets? Many corporations gave up their own flight departments years ago in favor of fractional aircraft ownership. NetJets filled the niche for corporations who needed to cut back on expenses, but still needed occasional access to a corporate jet. Even the U.S. President has to justify the use of Air force One lest his constituents accuse him of wasting taxpayer money. Corporations have to answer to their board of directors as well as their shareholders, and many executives have become gold, platinum, emerald, or other premium customers on commercial airlines instead of corporate jet passengers. Imagine this potential conversation opener: You want employees to take pay cuts while you buy a supersonic corporate jet? This proposal could be the beginning of corporate lynchings.
Ron mentions: “The VLJ sector has brought small, quiet, efficient business jets to market.” But I taxi around the Eclipse Aviation headquarters every time I land in Albuquerque. It liquidated its assets in 2009. If very light jets can’t take-off in today’s economy, I don’t see ultra-elite supersonic jets making an appearance beyond maybe Sir Richard Branson’s playground.
Ron, I applaud you for dreaming big, but I just don’t see supersonic corporate jets becoming a legitimate market. Maybe someday—but not in the next decade, at least.
Please post any comments on original Ron’s blog post: