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FAA issues rule to support supersonic aircraft development

The rule “will help ensure that companies developing these aircraft clearly understand the process for gaining FAA approval to conduct flight testing, which is a key step in ultimately bringing their products to market,” the FAA said in a January 6 news release.

Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao characterized the action as a significant step toward reintroducing civil supersonic flight—banned for decades in the United States over noise concerns—and was evidence of the Department of Transportation’s “commitment to safe innovation.”

“The FAA supports the new development of supersonic aircraft as long as safety parameters are followed,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. “The testing of supersonic aircraft at Mach 1 will only be conducted following consideration of any impact to the environment.”

The rule notes that the FAA’s action to modernize procedures for obtaining special permission to fly aircraft above Mach 1 over the United States was driven by “the renewed interest in development of supersonic airplanes.”

AOPA, commenting on the proposed rule in August 2019, noted that “the development of this technology is of utmost importance and interest” to our membership, and conveyed the importance of safe integration of supersonic flight operations into the national airspace system—especially in consideration of subsonic aircraft operations under VFR above 10,000 feet msl.

Now, “AOPA appreciates the FAA addressing these issues by clarifying that special flight authorizations for supersonic aircraft will not be granted where flights would negatively impact flight safety or affect persons on the ground without notice,” said Christopher Cooper, AOPA senior director of regulatory affairs. “We support the supersonic testing and the FAA’s efforts to ensure timely notice of these test flights and their review of any impacts on routine aviation operations as the agency approves applications, in and outside of test areas.”

The rulemaking’s completion comes as other parties have begun acting on the opportunity to become players in the bid to bring about a boon without the sonic boom of supersonic aircraft. In December, AOPA reported that Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly and Kansas Transportation Secretary Julie Lorenz had completed an agreement with the FAA to establish the Kansas Supersonic Transportation Corridor, a 770-mile-long, racetrack-shaped testing space for nonmilitary aircraft that officials believed would attract interest from leading supersonic-aircraft developers.

The FAA’s rule announcement predicted that more regulatory steps were likely to follow as work to facilitate supersonic flight testing continues.

Outside of testing operations, however, “the FAA continues generally to prohibit civil supersonic flight over land in the United States,” according to the rule.

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