Aerion, the US advanced engineering group seeking to reintroduce commercial supersonic flight, said on Tuesday that it had letters of intent from potential customers for about 20 of its planned business jets.

The group, which opened its order book last month at the Dubai air show, said the commitments for aircraft exceeded $1.5bn based on a list price of $80m.

If Aerion develops the 8-12 passenger business jet, it will mark the return of commercial supersonic travel after the retirement of Concorde by British Airways and Air France in 2003.

Aerion has begun to offer 75 early delivery positions for the jet, which are being secured by customers paying an initial deposit of $250,000 into an escrow account. The money would be returned if the project were to fail.

Brian Barents, Aerion vice-chairman, said the group sought a partnership with an existing aircraft maker to bring the supersonic jet into production.

It hopes to finalise a deal with a manufacturing partner by the end of 2008, which would allow the jet to be certificated by US and European aviation safety authorities and brought into service by the end of 2014, he said.

Mr Barents claimed the Aerion project had a lead of at least six years upon rival schemes. The jet is being designed to fly at speeds of up to Mach 1.6. Crucial to the project is development of natural laminar flow technology for the wing.

Its range at supersonic speeds would be around 4,000 nautical miles and it would cruise below an altitude of 51,000 feet. Time savings of 30-40 per cent would be achieved compared to conventional business jets.

In comparison, Concorde flew at Mach 2.0, faster than a speeding bullet, and cruised at 55,000 feet. Its record across the Atlantic was two hours, 52 minutes and 59 seconds.

Named potential customers for Aerion’s jet include Sheikh Rashid bin Humaid al Nuaimi, a member of the ruling family of Ajman in the United Arab Emirates, and Princely Jets, a Pakistani charter operator.

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