Former Virgin Australia exec joins supersonic startup Spike

Virgin's John Thomas jumps into the race to create a supersonic private jet.

By David Flynn, July 28 2020
Former Virgin Australia exec joins supersonic startup Spike

Former Virgin Australia Group Executive John Thomas has joined Spike Aerospace to help the Boston-based company bring its supersonic business jet to the skies, with a specific focus on helping sell the 18-seat 'low boom' S-512 aircraft to airlines around the world.

Spike's ambition is for the clean-sheet supersonic design to offer premium passengers flights at 40% faster than conventional aircraft "for business or first class fares" by the mid-2020s.

"This will enable business travelers to be more effective and competitive, while personal travelers can enjoy more of the world," the company says.

Spike's S-512 supersonic business jet.
Spike's S-512 supersonic business jet.

Thomas, whose will serve as an advisor on Spike's executive team, said "Spike Aerospace’s vision for supersonic flight is tremendously compelling and ideally suited for all the major international airlines."

"In assessing the three main supersonic contenders under development, not only does Spike address the key issue of the sonic boom but importantly I believe offers the optimal combination of the right range, speed, projected operating economics and capital cost."

After decades working across a range of roles in the aviation sector, the Australian-born Thomas took charge of Virgin Australia Airlines in September 2016, running the airline under Virgin Australia Group CEO John Borghetti.

The two were understood to have enjoyed a long personal as well as professional relationship, and Thomas was considered to be heir apparent to Borghetti.

Inside Spike's S-512 supersonic private jet.
Inside Spike's S-512 supersonic private jet.

Thomas oversaw the introduction of Virgin's Economy X – based on the 'economy plus' offering of the larger US airlines – and the launch of inflight WiFi, and was reportedly very popular among Virgin staff and front-line employees.

However, he abruptly left the airline in June 2017, after less than a year in the job. Thomas offered no statement at the time, and Virgin PR briefed the media that his extensive skillset as a consultant had not translated into an executive role where he had to 'own' each decision.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified John Thomas as the former CEO of Virgin Australia Airlines, when his role was Group Executive. Executive Traveller apologizes for the error.

Spiking the supersonic market

The Spike S-512 is marketed as "an ultra-quiet supersonic business jet" capable of carrying up to 18 passengers at up to Mach 1.6 with a range of 6,200nm (11,500km).

While Spike's US-centric range chart is focussed on New York, the Spike S-512 would be capable of darting between Sydney and Singapore in around four hours, or tackling Sydney-Tokyo in five hours.

Spike says the S-512 will effectively halve travel time on major routes.
Spike says the S-512 will effectively halve travel time on major routes.

Spike maintains that by flying at around 1,800km/h, or Mach 1.5, the S-512 can use a modified version of existing engines instead of an all-new engine to shave development time and costs, while the computer-modelled aerodynamic design reduces the problematic sonic boom and helps bounce shockwaves upwards towards space instead of at the ground.

Despite appearances, the S-512 lacks passenger windows.
Despite appearances, the S-512 lacks passenger windows.

The composite fuselage is also without passenger windows: tiny HD cameras integrated into the jet's exterior will stream real-time back onto high-definition screens running the length of the cabin.

Inside Spike's S-512 supersonic private jet.
Inside Spike's S-512 supersonic private jet.

If the view's a bit boring, passengers can select 'digital wallpaper of other panoramic vistas', call up a moving map and other inflight information, or just dim the panel for a little shut-eye before touchdown.

Inside Spike's S-512 supersonic private jet.
Inside Spike's S-512 supersonic private jet.

Spike Aerospace say the S-512's windowless design will make for literally seamless construction, higher integrity of the fuselage and reduced drag thanks to its "smooth exterior skin."

Spike is among several firms racing to prove that the failure of the Concorde doesn't have to mean that supersonic flight cannot succeed, especially given the advances of the past 50 years since the Concorde made its first flight.

Boom's 50-seat Overture is expected to take wing in 2030.
Boom's 50-seat Overture is expected to take wing in 2030.

"Things have changed,” says Spike Aerospace CEO Vik Kachoria. "A small company now has the ability to design something that once would have taken thousands of engineers at Boeing to do. But this really isn’t some kind of Star Trek leap forward. This isn’t rocket science."

Boom Supersonic plans to roll out its XB-1 demonstrator – a 1:3 scale prototype of the Overture 50-seat commercial supersonic jet – in October, with test flights from 2021.

Boom's supersonic Overture will feature an all-business class cabin.
Boom's supersonic Overture will feature an all-business class cabin.

According to Boom, the XB-1 will act as a proving platform for Overture's "key technologies" such as carbon-fibre composite construction and computer-optimised high efficiency aerodynamics, ahead of Overture's debut in 2030.

The Aerion AS2 is a direct competitor to Spike's S-512.
The Aerion AS2 is a direct competitor to Spike's S-512.

Meanwhile, the Boeing-backed Aerion plans to begin flight testing the 12-passenger AS2 in 2025, promising an "ultra-luxury travel experience" on board the Mach 1.2 business jet.

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 808

I don't believe he was ever CEO, I think he was COO but undoubtedly coveted the corner office.

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 532

They say John Thomas was well liked by the staff and had good ideas, maybe the chairperson had different ideas. With supersonic travel hopefully I'm still alive for that and flying Ubers as well. I'm still waiting for my hoverboard to become real.

Eli
Eli

30 Jul 2015

Total posts 100

Interesting info on this guy. I truly wish him well!

These supersonic ventures always seem like a carrot.

06 Feb 2018

Total posts 4

John Thomas was NEVER in a CEO capacity at Virgin Australia. Please amend this article completely.

John Thomas was CEO of Virgin Australia Airlines, in the same way that there were also CEOs of Tiger and Velocity, while John Borghetti was CEO of the Virgin Australia Group. This was a mirror image of the Qantas structure which had Alan Joyce as CEO of the Qantas Group with other CEOs running Qantas Domestic, Qantas International, Jetstar and Qantas Loyalty.


Hi Guest, join in the discussion on Former Virgin Australia exec joins supersonic startup Spike