When you order a package at 10PM on a Monday, it often arrives at your home the next morning. Compare that to a decade ago, when it took weeks, and it’s bonkers. The world, to put it lightly, has done miraculous things in the last year(s).
Air travel though, minus a few cool new seats and some bluetooth to listen to your movies wirelessly has barely changed though, and with the retirement of most 747’s, surprisingly the fastest commercial jets, things have gotten slower.
Now that ideas of supersonic jets are actually more concrete, tried and tested viable options, people are thinking it’s the next big thing. There’s just one problem: a variety of archaic legislation is holding it up.
Even if a supersonic jet existed that’s ready to safely enter service from tomorrow, it could be months, or even years until the red tape around supersonic booms and other issues is lifted. That, in short, is what’s holding up the predicted multi-billion dollar sector of supersonic travel, as supersonic aircraft orders ramp up.
Supersonic Hold Up
According to Bloomberg, NetJet’s owned by Warren Buffet just ordered 20 supersonic jets from Aerion, based in Reno, Nevada. Boom, another leading contender in the race for a supersonic future has garnered investment and orders from Virgin, Japan Airlines and a variety of private businesses.
Executives, high rollers, A-listers and others with the dough to set the rules want to see a return of sub 4 hour travel between the USA and Europe, or sub 6 for Asia. Instead, for decades, the fastest four engine planes have been quickly retired, in favor of more eco friendly, fuel efficient aircraft.
The undoing of supersonic travel was multi-fold, and generally attributed to safety concerns around Concorde after tragic incidents, noise pollution in communities, excess waste and eventually, lack of demand, in the end.
But things are different now. Planes suppress noise better, safety standards have improved with stronger materials and testing; and after a shakeup between the cozy relationships with the FAA and manufacturers, rigorous standards checks are back.
FAA Bans And Regulatory Issues
In 1973, the US put a ban of supersonic booms over land. Against all odds, the ban still remains. Bloomberg, in an opinion piece, argues that the ban should be replaced with an agreed decibel metric, which gives nuance to the improvements in suppression of noise that have happened since… 1973. Just think about cars if you need reference.
As the world goes green, a very important and novel thing to do, issues around air pollution and ozone impact have also flared up in early talks. Boom will fuel supersonic planes with direct carbon capture, creating carbon neutral flight. That’s a far cry from the specs of Concorde, long may it live.
When you break it down, it’s archaic rules from the decades before the internet or mobile phones which are hampering the future of aviation, and the next great frontier in business travel right now. Sure, these planes will see benefits mostly for the rich, powerful or famous at first, but over time the broader public would likely see benefit.
Like all competitive businesses, costs would likely go down, and competition would drive new solutions. Really, who wouldn’t want to fly from LA to Japan in 5 hours? US businesses have been key drivers in pushing this technology forward, only to see the FAA and other bodies fail to take swift action to help get more test flights going, and pave the way for supersonic travel.
It won’t be long before it’s the only thing holding up supersonic flight.