Nearly two decades since the last supersonic passenger flight the planes are set to return to the international runways in 2029. American Airlines announced that it was ordering around 20 planes with the ability to travel faster than the speed of sound.
The start-up company Boom Supersonic (Overture Planes) are projected to have a “boom” in production if the first of these flights are successful. United and American each plan to buy at least 40 more of these planes.
However, with these exciting plans to revolutionize passenger travel, there is another twist. Boom wants to make these flights environmentally friendly, promising net-zero carbon emissions from day one. This is facilitated by relying solely on sustainable aviation fuel, repurposed from organic resources and waste. Following the increasing scrutiny of environmental impacts of flying, the stakes for both United and American are set high. With the international pledge to reduce carbon emissions by 2032 following the Net Zero Coalition outlined by the UN, the efforts to fast track travel comes at a certain cost. With other airlines advertising plans to further reduce their impact on the environment, the fine line between progress and regress is under the spotlight. For example, activists like Greta Thunberg have been pushing for the idea that air travel should be given up altogether.
So far, evidence is showing that the prospect of environmentally friendly supersonic flying is a mission which is not only highly ambitious, but potentially impossible. We cannot forget noise pollution, amid other hurdles set to reach this goal. Some are saying that the concept of green supersonic flying is almost contradicting itself, whereby even if fuel pollution was kept to the minimum, the supersonic boom would produce immense amounts of noise pollution. And this is a phenomenon that so far science has not been able to avoid.
There is an increasing amount of research working on avoiding the sonic boom. This is the sound that a supersonic aircraft makes when breaking the sound barrier. NASA alongside the Federal Aviation Administration have recently provided a set of final rules for supersonic aircraft testing, aimed at developing a “quiet supersonic aircraft”, which would be a step towards an efficient solution to high-speed flights.