Trump Opens Door to Return of Super-polluting Supersonic Planes
The Trump administration proposed new rules today that would pave the way for the return of commercial supersonic airplane travel. The new rules would allow commercial supersonic aircraft, which have been banned for almost 50 years, to be noisier at takeoff and landing than new conventional jets.
“Allowing supersonic aircraft to fly would be a disaster for our climate,” said Clare Lakewood, climate legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The pollution from existing planes is already a major threat to public health that the FAA is ignoring. The current reduction in air traffic, and the cleaner air we now breathe, should be reasons for the Trump administration to adopt measures to protect people and the climate from conventional aircraft, not excuses to pave the way for super-polluting supersonics.”
It’s projected that supersonic planes would burn five to seven times more fuel per passenger than standard aircraft. In a study released last year, the International Council on Clean Transportation concluded that a new fleet of supersonic planes would emit 96 million metric tons of carbon pollution every year. They are also projected to exceed subsonic limits for nitrogen oxides by 40%. Exposure to nitrogen oxides is linked to respiratory disease, heart attacks and strokes.
The new rules, which set noise standards for supersonic aircraft at takeoff and landing, have been proposed as a result of provisions included in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. That Act required the Federal Aviation Authority to start setting certification standards that will let commercial supersonic jets fly in U.S. airspace, and to consider repealing the ban on civilian supersonic flight over U.S. land.
“We shouldn’t have choke on dirty air just so a few people can shave an hour off a cross-country flight,” Lakewood said.
Overland commercial supersonic travel was banned in 1971, with Republican White House officials at the time citing noise pollution and dangerous emissions levels. The new rules do not propose to lift the ban on commercial supersonic flight over land.
Commercial aviation already accounts for 12% of all U.S. transportation CO2 emissions and 2.4% of CO2 emissions around the globe. This number is expected to grow in the coming decade if the industry does not adopt long-overdue emissions guidelines — and that’s before factoring in the increased pollution sure to accompany supersonic planes.