Wichitan moves ahead on Aerion jet

ORLANDO — A battered economy hasn't stopped the development of a long-range $80 million supersonic jet at Aerion, a company led by Wichitan Brian Barents.

But with the downturn, it might take more time to work with a major manufacturer to build it.

"It's not a matter of if; it's a matter of when," Barents said this week at Aerion's exhibit at the National Business Aviation Association's convention. Thursday was the last day of the convention.

Barents is a former Bombardier Learjet and Cessna Aircraft executive in Wichita. Barents also was president of Galaxy Aerospace before it sold to Gulfstream Aerospace.

Fort Worth financier Robert Bass, who is backing the development effort, said in a statement before the show that he was encouraged by discussions with aircraft manufacturers.

Barents agreed.

"There's a lot of discussions going on," Barents said. "There is sincere intent, but it's not their top priority."

The design process of the supersonic jet is at the point that it's ready to enter into a technical assessment phase with one or more planemakers, the company said. The joint study phase would last nine to 12 months before the program was launched. It then would take five years to build, flight test, certify and produce the jets.

In the meantime, the Reno, Nev.-based company is moving ahead to refine the aerodynamics of the aircraft and with other work, Barents said.

It also just launched a new market survey to update one done five years ago.

Also from NBAA

* Cessna updated its initiative called ServiceDirect. Part of the service includes full-size trucks that take the service to where the customers are. The trucks are equipped with tools for a variety of maintenance functions. So far this year, they've traveled 56,000 miles and made 317 service calls.

* Andover's Randy Groom, who started consulting firm Groom Aviation, and his partner, Doug Brantner, are starting an aircraft sales company, Groom Aviation Sales. Its purpose is to help buyers take advantage of the timing to buy an aircraft in a down economy. The partners have added two aviation veterans to their sales team, Andy Biller and Blair Sullivan. Groom, Brantner, Biller and Sullivan are former Hawker Beechcraft executives.

* Cessna CEO Jack Pelton has run into many people during the NBAA who live outside Wichita. They have a common question: "What's happening in Wichita?"

"They're very concerned about our city," Pelton said.