The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is drafting new regulations that would help advance the development of civil supersonic aircraft. The first regulation would formulate noise certification standards, while the second would potentially ease the procedures for getting approval to flight-test the next generation of supersonic aircraft. It is the latest development concerning the possible revival of the supersonic flight, set to potentially give a boost to the industry, at least in the U.S.

On May 9, 2018, the FAA announced on its website it is working on regulations that apply to supersonic flight in the U.S. The regulator’s main headache? Supersonic booms. The FAA states it is focusing on developing civil supersonic aircraft noise standards. According to the agency, the first of the two proposed rules regards the accommodation of noise certification of supersonic aircraft, and the second is aimed at “streamlining” the authorization procedures for supersonic flight-testing in the U.S. The FAA states it expects to issue the proposed new regulations in 2019.

The initiation of the agency’s new rules was listed in the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs’ spring 2018 agenda. This means that developing special flight authorizations for supersonic aircraft is now on the list of the U.S. government’s planned long-term actions. According to this latest FAA’s post on the White House website, a formal proposal is now expected to be ready earlier - by December 2018.

Supersonic flight over land is banned or highly regulated in several countries around the world due to the sonic boom produced by the aircraft. In the U.S., supersonic flights on over-land routes have been prohibited by the FAA since 1971. According to Bloomberg, the only noise standards in U.S. regulations apply to the famous Concorde supersonic jet, which was retired 15 years ago, because it became economically unsustainable.

The Concorde, with its cruising speed of 1,354 mph (2,179 km/h) and a Mach of 2.04, was capable of flying more than twice the speed of sound, whereas typical airliners fly at a around 80% the speed of sound. Given the noise restrictions and the jet’s speed capabilities, it mainly focused on overseas flights, such as from New York to London, Singapore to London, and from New York to Mexico City.

These trips would take about half the time on the supersonic jet, compared to regular (subsonic) flight. But due to the noise restrictions, for instance, on its route from New York to Mexico, the aircraft would have to fly at subsonic speeds while crossing over the U.S. state of Florida.

Although, since Concorde’s retirement in 2003, supersonic flight has been absent from the skies, both private and state companies are now working to make supersonic flight over-land routes legal again. Which means that they have to solve the problem of the sonic boom. Startups like Boom Supersonic, Aerion Supersonic, and Spike Aerospace are already developing supersonic aircraft for commercial use (starting with business travel) and plan to deliver them by 2025, The Business Insider reports.

And in case you missed it, in April 2018, NASA awarded Lockheed-Martin a $247.5 million contract to design, build and test a quieter supersonic jet. The U.S. company is set to deliver the aircraft – the so called X-plane – to NASA in late 2021, at which point the space agency will test it over select U.S. cities to evaluate its low-boom capabilities. The collected data will then be provided to regulators for consideration over the new rules regarding supersonic flight over land. 

Lockheed Martin won a $247.5 million NASA contract for the design, building and testing of a supersonic jet that reduces sonic boom.

By the way, also in April 2018, the UK-based aerospace technology company Reaction Engines received backing from both Boeing HorizonX Ventures and Rolls-Royce for its hypersonic propulsion technology that could contribute to the next generation of hypersonic flight. Seems like the world is ready for the revival of supersonic travel.