WASHINGTON, Aug. 27, 2018— Thirty-eight environmental, public-health and community groups today called on the Senate to reject a bill provision that would lift the ban on civilian supersonic flight over U.S. soil. As today’s letter notes, the provision would boost the return of luxury supersonic planes projected to burn five to seven times more fuel per passenger than typical airliners.
“Resurrecting these flying gas-guzzlers would cause the aviation industry’s already massive climate damage to skyrocket,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Supersonic planes are a gratuitous luxury for the super-rich and a dirty burden for everyone else. This bill would clear the runway for their comeback.”
Because the loud sonic booms from aircraft breaking the sound barrier harm people and wildlife, a 1973 Federal Aviation Administration regulation banned civilian flight at supersonic speeds over U.S. soil, restricting supersonic speed to travel over the ocean. Section 5017 of the 2018 Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act, a bill pending in Congress, would reverse that protection.
Quiet efforts to build the high-speed planes are again underway, despite the Concorde’s flop decades ago. Boom Supersonics is developing an airliner it says could fly commercially by 2023. Supersonic business jets are in development by Spike Aerospace and Aerion Supersonic with the goal of being in service by the mid-2020s.
A return of supersonic aircraft threatens to greatly worsen aviation’s contribution to the climate crisis. A recent analysis by the International Council on Clean Transportation found that new commercial supersonic planes will likely emit 70 percent more carbon dioxide than comparable new subsonic airplanes will be allowed to emit.
New supersonic airliners will also likely exceed international subsonic limits for nitrogen oxides by 40 percent, according to the analysis. Exposure to nitrogen oxides is linked to respiratory disease, heart attacks and strokes.
“Supersonic planes might help the one percent zip around the world faster, but they would jeopardize my generation’s shot at inheriting a livable planet,” said Garrett Blad, executive coordinator of SustainUs. “With the Trump administration killing climate protections left and right, a return of these dirty planes is the last thing we need.”
International aviation is among the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas pollution. Even without supersonic aircraft, the industry is already expected to generate 43 metric gigatons of CO2 through 2050, consuming more than 4 percent of the world’s remaining carbon budget, according to a Center report.
“At a time when we need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from aviation, not increase them, incentivizing commercial use of supersonic aircraft is a huge step in the wrong direction,” said Sarah Burt, an attorney at Earthjustice.
Supersonic planes’ potential return comes as the Trump administration pushes forward proposals to roll back pollution rules for power plants and vehicles, the nation’s two largest sources of greenhouse gases.