The FAA Facilitates The Return Of Commercial Supersonic Flight

On Wednesday, December 6th, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), in conjunction with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), issued a “final rule” to facilitate the safe development of civil supersonic aircraft. With several companies racing to develop viable commercial passenger supersonic aircraft, this will come as welcome news – particularly to firms like Boom and Aerion.

Boom Supersonic’s ‘Overture’ has already had commitments from carriers such as Japan Airlines and The Virgin Group. Photo: Boom Supersonic

“Today’s action is a significant step toward reintroducing civil supersonic flight and demonstrates the Department’s commitment to safe innovation,” -Elaine L. Chao, U.S. Transportation Secretary*

*Since the above statement was made, Secretary Chao has resigned due to recent events in Washington DC.

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About the new ‘final rule’

According to an FAA press release, the new rule streamlines and clarifies procedures to obtain FAA approval for supersonic flight testing in the United States. Furthermore, this rule will help ensure that companies developing these aircraft clearly understand the process for gaining FAA approval to conduct flight testing, which is a key step in ultimately bringing their products to market.

In the proposed rule, the FAA had identified three areas intended to improve provisions:

  • The first designates the proposed office in the FAA to which applicants are to send applications and direct questions.
  • The second proposes to gather the scattered application requirements into a list and present them according to modern regulatory formatting standards.
  • And finally, the FAA proposes the addition of a new reason for flight testing to accommodate future noise certification actions.

“The FAA supports the new development of supersonic aircraft as long as safety parameters are followed…the testing of supersonic aircraft at Mach 1 will only be conducted following consideration of any impact to the environment.” -Steve Dickson, FAA Administrator

Consulting the industry

In developing this ‘final rule,’ the FAA engaged in discussion with industry stakeholders as outlined in this final rule for Special Flight Authorizations for Supersonic Aircraft. This included groups like GE Aviation, Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), General Aviation Manufacturer’s Association (GAMA), Supersonic Flight Alliance (SSFA), AeroTEC, and Boom.

Points of discussion included:

  • Compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
  • Providing more flexibility for test area selections to allow more than one operator to use a test area
  • Supporting the development of test areas outside of military operation areas (MOAs)
  • The possibility of an expedited application approval process under certain circumstances

The FAA considered these points but drafted its own independent conclusions.

Welcome news for supersonic candidates

With the Department of Transportation and the FAA hoping to take additional regulatory actions to enable the development of supersonic aircraft, this should be welcomed news for the handful of companies vying to be among the first in this new wave of passenger travel.

In an email to Bloomberg,  a Boom Supersonic spokesperson wrote, “We welcome the FAA’s interest in clarifying supersonic test flight rules.” Meanwhile, Aerion’s CEO told the media outlet,“Today marks a significant milestone in the development of civil supersonic flight.”

Indeed, changes and clarifications to FAA procedures are coming at a time when both Boom and Aerion are working on getting their prototypes into the air. Boom’s 1/3 scale test model, the XB-1, is set to take flight sometime this year.

What do you think of the FAA and USDOT streamlining regulations for the development of supersonic passenger air travel? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.