Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 3, 2018

Contact:  Clare Lakewood, (510) 844-7121,

Senate Boosts Return of Super-polluting Supersonic Planes

WASHINGTON— The U.S. Senate passed a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill today with a provision that could facilitate a comeback of highly polluting luxury supersonic planes, which are projected to burn five to seven times more fuel per passenger than typical airliners.

Efforts to build the high-speed planes are again underway, despite the Concorde’s flop decades ago.

“It’s shameful that Congress is trying to resurrect these incredibly dirty planes so rich people can get to business meetings and vacations faster,” said Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Supersonics are a needless extravagance that will supersize the aviation industry’s already hefty contribution to the climate crisis.”

Today’s vote comes after 38 environmental, public-health and community groups successfully called on the Senate to reject a version of the bill that would have lifted a 40-year ban on overland supersonic flight in the United States. 

But section 181 of the today’s bill does require the FAA to start setting certification standards that will let civilian supersonic jets fly in U.S. airspace, and to consider repealing the ban on civilian supersonic flight over U.S. land. The House of Representatives has already passed the bill.

Boom Supersonics is developing an airliner it says could fly commercially by 2023. Supersonic business jets are in development by Spike Aerospace and Aerion Supersonic with the goal of being in service by the mid-2020s.

A return of supersonic aircraft threatens to worsen aviation’s contribution to the climate crisis. A recent analysis by the International Council on Clean Transportation found that new commercial supersonic planes will likely emit 70 percent more carbon dioxide than comparable new subsonic airplanes will be allowed to emit.

New supersonic airliners will likely exceed subsonic limits for nitrogen oxides by 40 percent, according to the analysis. Exposure to nitrogen oxides is linked to respiratory disease, heart attacks and strokes.

International aviation is among the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas pollution. Even without supersonic aircraft, the industry is already expected to generate 43 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide through 2050, consuming more than 4 percent of the world’s remaining carbon budget, according to a Center report.

“This bill forces the FAA to start a rulemaking process for super-polluting planes that just shouldn’t be in the air,” Lakewood said. “Federal aviation officials need to make sure their regulations keep climate-killing supersonic planes out of our airspace and off of our runways.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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