FAA Supersonic Flight Proposal Could Be An Environmental Disaster

The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had, on the 30th of March, released a set of new noise standards that would apply to supersonic flights and aircraft. The measures include special noise allowances at times of take-off and landing. The plan is currently undergoing 90 days of public approval, also known as Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). It will make a final decision after that. However, many environmentalists around the world are already addressing their concerns relating to this allowance.

Concorde Takeoff
Is it a return for supersonic flights? Should they be allowed even at the cost of the environment? Photo: Getty Images

The past and the present

The Concorde is one of the most famous aircraft in the world. The supersonic airliner could fly from Washington in the United States to London Heathrow in England in less than 4 hours. Concorde was highly acclaimed for its sharp features and an unprecedented capability to cover long distances with a maximum speed of Mach 2 (2,180 km/hr). However, the aircraft was retired from service in 2003 due to its increasing number of problems and its environmental impact.

Concorde faced numerous challenges during its years of operation. One of them was the massive sonic boom. Flying at twice the speed of sound, the loud bang created by a Concorde could shatter windows. Many countries banned it from their airspace because of this. As a result, most of the planned routes were unable to launch. Along with this, CO2 emissions and atmospheric pollution turned the eye of environmentalists towards the damaging effects of Concorde on the environment.

Airbus, British Airways, Concorde
Concorde is an icon of the aviation industry. However, its presence has always been controversial. Photo: Airbus

However, despite past issues, some companies believe there is a place in the modern aviation world for a supersonic successor. The FAA flight proposal updates the existing rules to allow airlines to apply for a special flight authorization for flying above Mach 1 in the United States.

The FAA added that the current technology, which includes noise-friendly engines and advancements in material manufacturing, could overcome the problems faced by past supersonic aircraft like Concorde.

Supersonic commercial flights
The question comes down to what’s more critical; environmental acceptance or economic viability? Photo: Boom Technology

Environmental concerns

Despite the hope that technology has moved on a great deal, many environmentalists have voiced their concerns about the potential problems supersonic flight could cause.

According to a report by the International Council on Clean Transportation, a new fleet of supersonic aircraft would burn around 5 to 6 times more fuel than a conventional aircraft. This will lead to increased fuel emissions, resulting in 96 million metric tons of carbon pollution every year. There will also be a 40% rise in nitrogen oxide, a substance that is harmful to people with respiratory diseases and heart problems.

Moreover, exposure to aircraft noise over time is associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure and life-threatening disturbance for sensitive wildlife. Hence, the argument finally arrives at a point where we have to choose between cost savings and environmental priorities. It is possible that in the future, an aircraft could arrive that ticks all the boxes. For now, however, it is a question of what is more important.

Do you think supersonic flights are a good idea? Let us know in the comments.