There is a chance for supersonic aircraft to return to commercial services again, fifteen years after the last flight performed by Concorde, if the USA and Europe manage to conclude an agreement on the noise standards. U.S. regulators, backed by several start-ups interested in the construction of supersonic jets, find a strong opposition from their European counterparts who insist on stricter noise rules.
American manufacturers are getting ready to launch the first home-made business and passenger jets by 2020, however, there might be significant delays as a result of lack of regulations of the noise emissions permitted for these new supersonic planes.
Ongoing U.S. – Europe noise emissions dispute
The USA and Europe have a history of disputing over noise standards both for subsonic and supersonic aircraft.
Back in the 1970s, the Anglo-French Concorde delayed its transatlantic services over a noise-related dispute. The U.S. Congress and then the New York Port Authority banned the plane as a result of the high noise pollution. Currently, in the USA there is a prohibition for supersonic flights over American land which was issued in 1973 by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Then in the 1990s, there was another unreported clash on noise standards. The European Union threatened to ban older American jets, such as Boeing 727 from its airports as a result of the noise they cause. Washington answered with an intention to ban Concorde flights.
Now, the dispute has reversed. While the USA is pressing for more liberal rules, Europe is fiercely opposing the proposal. At the negotiations of the new noise rules at the United Nations aviation agency, the European counties and most notably the UK, Germany and France, expressed their will for much stricter noise rules.
According to some sources, Europe has a problem with noise emissions but has no urge to solve it since there is no industry pushing it towards resolution. In the USA on the other hand, there are at least three start-ups ready to revive the supersonic jets – Aerion Supersonic, working in cooperation with Lockheed Martin Corp and GE and considered most advanced of all, Boom Supersonic and Spike Aerospace. The aim is to produce supersonic planes that are both quieter and more fuel efficient than the Concorde that will be serving primarily business travellers.
The industry leaders – Boeing and Airbus, have shifted towards slower but more fuel-efficient aircraft that allows airlines to offer lower prices for their passengers.
A need for global standards
In order for the new supersonic jets to be manufactured, there should be set standards that need to be met. In case there is a delay in the issuing of the standards, there will be a delay in the next supersonic flight. No company will be willing to invest millions of dollars into a plane that may never see certification.
Global standards on supersonic jets are expected to be drafted by the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) based in Montreal and have already started collecting information from plane manufacturers. The European countries believe that the current noise limits can be used as guidelines for determining admissible noise levels for take-off and landing, however, U.S. industry experts state it is not possible to compare supersonic with subsonic aircraft.
In the event ICAO delays the adoption of the international standards, FAA is ready to establish domestic rules for certification and flights. Initially, supersonic jets will have to fly over-water routes only but FAA is considering overland flights as a possibility as well.
Hopefully, the international regulators will be able to reach an agreement on supersonic noise standards quickly and thus meet customer’s demand for faster flights and let us go supersonic once again.