Airplane Speeds Have Stagnated for 40 Years

What happened to the high level of innovation in air travel? Civil supersonic aviation was banned over the United States in 1973 because of fears that sonic booms would damage buildings and constitute an intolerable nuisance. The outright ban limited the market for the Concorde to transoceanic routes and destroyed incentives for research and development of new supersonic transports. Since 1973, airplane manufacturers have innovated on margins other than speed, and as a result, commercial flight is safer and cheaper than it was 40 years ago. But commercial flight isn’t any faster—in fact, today’s flights travel at less than half the Concorde’s speed.

If we want to restore mid-century levels of aviation innovation and break the sound barrier again, we must first break regulatory barriers. The FAA should lift its ban on civil supersonic flight. Legitimate concerns about supersonic flight can be handled by specific policies that address concerns directly, such as a clear standard from the FAA for acceptable noise levels. It would be a shame to suffer another four decades of aviation stagnation.

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