LYNNWOOD, Wash. – Boston-based Spike Aerospace is moving a bit more slowly than planned on its process to pick the site for a supersonic jet factory, the company’s top executive said today.
Washington state is still in the mix, but so are seven other states, said Vik Kachoria, Spike’s president and CEO.
“We’re not moving to Washington state just yet,” Kachoria said here at the Governor’s Aerospace Summit, presented by the Aerospace Futures Alliance of Washington. “Each region offers something interesting that we want to explore.”
At one time, the company had hoped to start narrowing down the field from Washington, Oregon, California, Texas, Florida, Massachusetts and the Carolinas by the end of this year. But Kachoria told GeekWire that the “down-select” would have to wait until 2017.
He also the schedule for building a subscale supersonic demonstrator would slip from mid-2018 to early 2019.
Spike estimates that $500 million would be invested in building the plant and getting it up to full production in the 2022 time frame. The company currently employs about 45 people, but that workforce could eventually ramp up to more than 1,000.
Kachoria said the startup’s goal was to sell 10 jets a year at a price of $100 million, amounting to a billion dollars in gross revenue.
If Spike’s concept comes to fruition, its jets could transport up to 18 passengers at Mach 1.6, or roughly 1,100 mph. That translates to a three-hour flight from New York to London. Kachoria said the ticket price could be in the range of a current-day business-class flight, which is around $4,000.
However, there are lots of challenges ahead: Spike still has to perfect its “quiet-boom” technology for supersonic travel and work out the kinks in its aircraft design.
The company plans to work with a bevy of partners, including engine suppliers and manufacturers that have yet to be chosen. Those partnerships will be key for turning Spike’s concept into a reality, Kachoria said. “There’s no way that a small company like us can build a supersonic jet,” he explained.
Then there’s the competition: Boom Aerospace, for example, is partnering with British billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. Meanwhile, Aerion Supersonic is partnering with Airbus. Spike hasn’t yet announced big-name partners.
Finally, there’s a debate over just how big the supersonic market will turn out to be. During a follow-up presentation at today’s summit, Boeing executive Mike Sinnett was asked where supersonic transport ranked on his own company’s agenda.
“Our customers today are primarily large commercial airlines that right now aren’t demanding supersonic flight, because they don’t believe that they have passengers that are willing to pay that kind of money for supersonic flight,” said Sinnett, who is vice president of product development at Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
Instead, Boeing’s current focus is to reduce travel time by making it easier for passengers to fly directly to their destinations rather than having to go through airline hubs, Sinnett said. “If it’s faster, it doesn’t matter if it’s not supersonic,” he said.
He acknowledged, however, that smaller companies like Spike could change the equation in the years ahead – either by developing more efficient, lower-cost technologies for supersonic travel, or by carving out specialized niches in the marketplace.
Sinnett said Boeing does expect to develop supersonic jets, but on a time scale of 20 to 30 years rather than the five- to seven-year time frame that Spike is targeting.
“There’s got to be the combination of available technology and customer pull,” he said.