For years, the assumption in civil air transport circles has been that the only way that the airlines would ever get a second-generation supersonic transport to replace the BAC/Aerospatiale Concorde would be for the industry to come up with a larger, more economical, longer-range and (crucially) much more environmentally friendly machine.

Hopes have been repeatedly dashed as studies have shown that such a machine would be prohibitively expensive to build, would have an uncertain market (at least until the environmental issues were resolved) and that putting such a machine into service could seriously harm the rest of an airline's revenue. It would, after all, rob the airline of the business and first-class passengers who currently are all that stand between profit and loss on those subsonic services.

In the world of the business jet, there is a growing conviction that there is an overwhelming case for the development of a supersonic business jet (SBJ). Those who have seen the capabilities of the new-generation ultra-long-range business jets like the Bombardier Global Express and the Gulfstream GV say they want all the advantages they bring, plus the speed of a supersonic and indicate that they would be willing to pay a realistic price for such a machine.

The business-jet builders and users are lobbying the US Government for funds to establish the practicality of their ideas but their case may be stronger if they had airline backing too. Perhaps instead of a 350-seat supersonic airliner, what the airlines really need for their premium passengers is the sort of machine that would otherwise tempt those passengers into their own (or fractionally their own) SBJs.

The technology exists and if billionaire business aviation investors like Warren Buffett are willing to guarantee a fleet of 100 SBJs at $50 million a piece with a trail of other investors lining up behind him, there seems to be a dazzling opportunity for the airlines, industry and research agencies on an international scale to unite and fund the development of a single family of solutions for a single family of problems.

Source: Flight International