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The High-Tech Future of Business Travel

From supersonic jets to private planes, you can drive on the highway—these innovations are poised to revolutionize air travel.

While technology that improves our lives takes a giant leap forward daily, commercial, business and personal aviation innovation has advanced at a snail’s pace over the last half century. New developments on the near horizon, however, may change all that—and, in the process, transform the way you do business forever.

“The U.S. prohibits civilian aircraft flying faster than Mach 1 (the speed of sound) over land, and European sonic boom restrictions are equally punitive.”

Case in point: The supersonic Aerion AS2 may make traveling from New York to Paris and back the same day a reality, while the “roadable” aircraft—think flying car—could bring new meaning to the term “road warrior.”

The pages to follow offer an overview of some of the potential advances poised to revolutionize air travel, as well as insights from industry insiders and experts on the forces and innovations shaping the industry’s future.

A SUPERSONIC RENAISSANCE

In 1958, a Pan Am Boeing 707 marked the dawn of the commercial jet age as it arched gracefully across the Atlantic from New York to Paris at just under the speed of sound. The seven-hour
flight shrank transoceanic travel time by nearly half.

Fast-forward nearly 60 years. The newest airliners and the latest business jets are still cruising at virtually the same speed.

There was a brief glimmer of hope for a faster future when Concorde broke the “Mach barrier” 40 years ago. Cruising at twice the speed of sound, Concorde reduced the Paris-to-New York flight time to a stunning three and a half hours. But, while the supersonic jet flew like a bullet over the ocean, it encountered a massive regulatory speed bump approaching land.

The U.S. prohibits civilian aircraft flying faster than Mach 1 (the speed of sound) over land, and European sonic boom restrictions are equally punitive. That meant that for a considerable
portion of Concorde’s journey, the sleek speedster was forced to throttle back to its most uneconomic operating regimen. So, as high as the hope for shrinking time and space, so was the cost. As a result, the plane once destined to transform jet travel was rendered a financial failure and grounded forever. Now, however, a new dream of traveling faster than the speed of sound is nearing reality, but this time, it’s designed specifically for business jet travelers.


CEO PERSPECTIVE / AERION: SPEEDING AHEAD
“The credit for the Aerion supersonic business jet goes to Dr. Richard Tracy. His breakthrough aerodynamic design, natural supersonic laminar flow technology and new construction techniques and materials, which create optimal efficiency throughout the speed range, make this new jet feasible. “We built our business plan assuming that we would fully adhere to current global
regulatory requirements. That would limit us to high subsonic speeds over the U.S. Over the rest of the world, we would fly using existing standards that allow supersonic speeds so long as the sonic boom doesn’t hit the ground [At Mach 1.2—800 mph—the AS2 will be boom-less].

“Because our expertise is in aerodynamic design and natural laminar flow technology, it was always our intention to team with an existing aircraft manufacturer to build the airplane. Last year, we announced collaboration with Airbus Industries, and we are working with them to put the airplane into production.

“As worldwide commerce expands, the need to travel longer distances more frequently is growing. We believe there is sufficient demand for an airplane like this to satisfy that need, justify the investment and make a very attractive financial return to investors. While you don’t need an airplane in this category 100 percent of the time, when you do, this capability is invaluable.

“We see this as the first in a family of airplanes. Clearly, it could be a bigger business jet or it could be an airliner in the future. All of these proprietary technologies have application in military or commercial areas. In fact, that was the motivating factor for Airbus to collaborate with us. We have licensed them to utilize our technology in their future commercial products.

“Those are just some of the things on the horizon, and we are very optimistic.”—Brian Barents, Co-chairman, Aerion

About Mark Patiky

Mark Patiky
Mark Patiky’s aviation background spans four decades including writing and editing for more than a dozen international and U.S. aviation publications as well as Fortune, Forbes, ForbesBusinessAviation.com and Business Aviation Voice on Forbes.com. He has written a book on investing in Star Wars technology and currently owns and flies his own airplane, which he uses extensively for business.