Calhoun: Aerion Investment Outpaced Benefit to Boeing

 - June 9, 2021, 11:04 AM
Aerion was forced to halt operations after it was unable to raise funding to bring its AS2 supersonic business jet to market. Boeing had been a primary partner in that program. (Photo: Aerion)

Boeing president and CEO Dave Calhoun recently shed more light on his company’s decision to support urban air mobility (UAM) emerging technologies such as Wisk rather than supersonic designer Aerion, which recently shuttered over a lack of funding. Boeing was a primary partner in Aerion, but Calhoun said at the recent Alliance Bernstein 37th Annual Strategic Decisions Conference that investments are based on whether projects are “big enough and meaningful enough” to Boeing.

If a project doesn’t bring such benefit to Boeing, then it has to stand on its own, Calhoun said. “And our decision on supersonic was that [it didn’t]. We couldn’t get there with respect to the market, with the respect to the needed investment,” he said. Boeing evaluated its investment yearly, and “we got to a decision where, yes, we jus­t…didn’t believe in it quite as much as we thought we could.”

Meanwhile, Calhoun endorsed the move by United Airlines to go after such technologies. (United recently placed an order for up to 50 Boom Overture supersonic airliners.) “If the technology comes out and comes to bear in the marketplace, in some time frame that matters, congratulations," Calhoun said. "They’ll be at the front end of that, and I’m all for that.”

Boeing, he added, did opt to stick with investing in the all-electric Cora eVTOL under development by Wisk, which is a joint venture by Boeing and Kitty Hawk. “We love it,” Calhoun said. “It’s an incredible airplane.” He noted that the aircraft has accumulated 1,500 “perfect flights with respect to tests or autonomy, demonstrating autonomy [and] demonstrating quiet.”

Calhoun was also encouraged that a significant urban market will benefit from sustainable aircraft, such as electric models, and advancements in autonomy.

Importantly, these technologies have “lots of tentacles back into bigger Boeing,” he said. “There are all the reasons in the world for us to want to play in that. And it is a big contribution to sustainability if we can displace that urban helicopter market. And that’s a relatively big market. It’s measured in billions. It’s not a tiny little niche.”