Supersonic Jets Get a Boost as FAA Issues Rule to Spur Tests

New regulations for testing the next generation of ultra-fast jets were finalized by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, an attempt to streamline the development of supersonic flight.

The FAA on Wednesday announced the regulations as several companies work on developing prototypes of aircraft capable of flying faster than the speed of sound, it said in a press release.

The move is an attempt to make it easier to receive permission from FAA for conducting supersonic test flights. U.S. rules prohibit routine flights beyond the speed of sound -- about 660 miles (1062 kilometers) per hour at high altitudes -- over land. The agency is also working on setting broader new standards for such aircraft, it said.

“Today’s action is a significant step toward reintroducing civil supersonic flight and demonstrates the department’s commitment to safe innovation,” Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said in the press release.

Companies including Aerion Corp. and Boom Technology Inc. are attempting to design aircraft capable of flying at speeds far faster than existing models, but concerns remain over sonic booms and other environmental issues.

‘Significant Milestone’

The FAA rules will enable Aerion to fly its AS2 business jet over land in addition to the flights over oceans it had already planned on, Tom Vice, chairman and chief executive officer of Aerion, said in an emailed statement.

“Today marks a significant milestone in the development of civil supersonic flight,” Vice said.

The company said in November that it had completed wind tunnel testing on the design. It hopes to begin assembling a prototype in 2023.

Boom said it was planning to start the flight testing campaign of its prototype XB-1 aircraft later this year.

“We welcome the FAA’s interest in clarifying supersonic test flight rules,” the Colorado-based company said in an email.

While there have been many supersonic military aircraft, the only models to carry civilian passengers were the Concorde and the Russian-built Tupolev Tu-144. The Concorde went out of service in 2003, battered by its high expenses and a fatal crash in 2000 that had prompted the model to be grounded. The Tu-144 had only limited service.

New technology in engine development, lighter weight carbon-fiber structures and computerized electronics have led to a wave of development projects for newer supersonic aircraft. Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc., which is trying to develop commercial space flights, has also joined the race, it said last year.

Developers are also working on ways to make supersonic aircraft quieter. The loud sonic boom of existing models led FAA to prohibit commercial supersonic flight over land, severely restricting the areas in which they could fly.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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