FAA Initiates Rulemaking on Supersonic Flights

New rules aren’t expected to eliminate current Mach 1 ban

Supersonic Jet
NPRMs are considered the first step toward reintroducing supersonic air travel in the U.S.Courtesy GE

The DOT and the FAA are taking steps to advance the development of civil supersonic aircraft beginning with the FAA's initiation of two rulemaking activities on civil supersonic aircraft noise. The first is a proposed rule for noise certification of supersonic aircraft, the second a proposed rule to streamline and clarify the procedures to obtain special flight authorization for conducting supersonic flight-testing in the United States since the Part 36 noise certification standards don't apply to supersonic aircraft. The goal is to develop new standards that are technologically and economically feasible. The current FAR 91.817 essentially prohibits flight over the U.S. by any aircraft faster than Mach 1 true airspeed.

Because of the Congressional support for the advancement of new supersonic aircraft, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 specifies that the FAA administrator exercise leadership in the creation of federal and international policies, regulations, and standards relating to the certification and safe and efficient operation of civil supersonic aircraft.

The FAA anticipates meeting the statutory deadlines for the proposed rules and will publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for noise certification of supersonic aircraft by March 31, 2020, and another for streamlining the procedures to obtain a special flight authorization for testing by December 31, 2019. NPRMs will be published in the Federal Register for public review and comment.

The two supersonic rulemaking activities would not rescind the prohibition of flight in excess of Mach 1 over land. At the same time, the FAA is working within the existing statutory and regulatory authority to consider the range of permissible supersonic operations. In addition, the FAA is assessing the current state of supersonic aircraft technology in terms of mitigating the noise impacts associated with supersonic overland flight. To this end, the agency will conduct a biennial review of aircraft noise and performance data beginning on December 31, 2020, to determine whether to amend the current ban on supersonic flight by civil aircraft over land in the United States.