June 27, 2019

As a growing number of manufacturers explore the potential market for supersonic aircraft, including business aviation applications, the FAA recently announced two upcoming notices of proposed rulemaking (NPRMs) to help develop this emerging industry sector.

“The U.S. Department of Transportation and the FAA are committed toward the safe and environmentally-sound research and development of supersonic aircraft,” FAA Acting Administrator Daniel Elwell said earlier this month. “We are confident in the next generation of aviation pioneers who want to open new opportunities for business, economic and aviation growth.”

Several challenges must be addressed before supersonic aircraft become commonplace, including concerns with fuel efficiency and environmental impact. However, noise has been the overwhelming factor hindering such designs, both when operating near airports and particularly the sonic booms that occur as aircraft pass through the sound barrier.

For this reason, operating civil aircraft above Mach 1 is prohibited in the United States when over land or near coastal regions. While the agency has no plans to rescind that blanket restriction at this time, the FAA anticipates posting an NPRM by the end of this year to streamline procedures for companies to obtain special flight authorizations for testing proposed supersonic aircraft.

The FAA also noted that existing Part 36 regulations for noise certification of subsonic aircraft are not applicable to supersonic designs. A second NPRM, to be issued by March 31, 2020, will address noise certification issues for such aircraft in light of the ongoing development of methods to reduce or eliminate sonic booms.

“These NPRMs will address the most critical factor affecting supersonic aircraft in the U.S. and provide a more efficient process by which to secure FAA approval to conduct flight testing of new designs,” said Heidi Williams, NBAA director for air traffic services and infrastructure. “We encourage our members and airport stakeholders to comment on these proposals once they are posted, and NBAA looks forward to assisting with the implementation of new technologies to connect businesses across great distances faster than ever before.”

Congress mandated the agency develop such policies for certification and operation of supersonic aircraft as part of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018.