Three companies are working to build supersonic airliners, but environmental groups are worried that the planes would add substantial amounts of greenhouse gases in the upper atmosphere.
On Jan. 30, the International Council on Clean Transportation released a study on the climate impacts of new supersonic networks.
The issue is expected to be hotly discussed during the gathering of international regulators in Canada that begins Feb. 4.
The arguments will center on environmental and noise standards for newly-revived supersonic transport technology.
The new generation of SSTs will be able to fly from New York to Paris in three-and-a-half hours, compared to the current eight hour flights.
The supersonic jets fly at higher altitudes than the subsonic airliners that carry millions of passengers every year.
British Airways and Air France flew Concorde supersonic planes from 1976 until 2003, when the service was discontinued in part because of low sales caused by the high cost of tickets, as well as concern over a 2000 accident that killed 113 people.
The Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection of the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations group, will discuss the standards in Montreal.
Now at least three startups are working on bring supersonic transportation back, including the commercially-focused Boom Supersonic and two others working on business jets, Spike Aerospace and Aerion Supersonic.
The concern among environmental groups is that supersonic jets burn much more fuel per passenger than conventional jets.
The International Council on Clean Transportation estimates the new supersonic planes will consume as much as five to seven times as much fuel per passenger as subsonic aircraft on the same routes.
That’s partly because going faster requires more fuel and partly because the supersonic jets are expected to transport significantly fewer passengers per plane.
The aviation industry has set a goal of reducing its carbon emissions by half in 2050 compared to 2005 levels, a mission that will be difficult to achieve, said Dan Rutherford, director of aviation programs at the International Council on Clean Transportation.
Rutherford said “Adding these planes, which could be five to seven times as carbon intensive as comparable subsonic jets, on top of that just to save a few hours flying over the Atlantic seems problematic to me.”
But for people who can afford the higher fares, avoiding several hours of uncomfortable time in aircraft seats is a realistic benefit.
The Concorde could reduce flying time from New York to London down to three-and-a-quarter hours, while passengers were being fed a movable feast.
The sonic boom problem has been worked on for decades by NASA and Edwards Air Force Base technicians and aircraft designers and there has been considerable progress.
The Concorde was too boomy to be allowed to fly over America’s sea to shining sea landscape.
But supersonic air travel could be a wonderful benefit to wealthy travelers.