How Much of Your Life Has the FAA Wasted?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

An article in the Wall Street Journal titled "Drop the Supersonic Aircraft Ban, Watch Business Boom" proves quite an illuminating read on the question of aircraft regulation. I found two points quite interesting.

First, the FAA's current ban on supersonic aircraft was instigated by an environmentalist Luddite for reasons long since debunked:

These fears were spread by the Anti-Concorde Project, founded in 1966 by the environmental activist Richard Wiggs. Based on his belief that the Concorde represented a critical front line in the battle between technology and the environment, Wiggs, who died in 2001, made it his mission to prevent the development of supersonic transport. He took out full-page advertisements in the New York Times, testified at congressional hearings, and organized a coalition of academic advisers and residents' associations near major airports, all to oppose the Concorde.

It wasn't until after Wiggs's lobbying succeeded and supersonic transport was banned that research commissioned by the FAA and British Civil Aviation Authority debunked his most-controversial claims. The Concorde was not, in fact, noisier than conventional jets upon takeoff. And while a sonic boom near the ground can in theory cause structural damage, it was not an issue at the Concorde's 60,000-ft. cruising altitude. [link dropped]
The article later elaborates that sonic boom is partly a function of an aircraft's weight, which modern materials and engineering improvements can reduce.

Second, in addition to the supersonic ban wiping out an industry and wasting enormous amounts of our time, other regulation is making it very hard -- via uncertainty -- for entrepreneurs to bring newer, better supersonic jets to the market:
... The [FAA's] official position -- offered in a 2008 public statement -- is that it will forgo issuing a noise standard for supersonic travel until the "designs become known and the noise impacts of supersonic flight are shown to be acceptable."

And that's the catch: Without an official noise standard, how are America's aviation companies to know what counts as acceptable? No company is going to spend millions of dollars producing a quiet supersonic aircraft behind a veil of ignorance, only to discover later that the FAA does not find it to be quiet enough.
Even with these glaring examples of the failure of government "oversight," the authors never question its legitimacy. Nevertheless, for the generations that are unaware of why we don't have supersonic flight today, this piece provides potentially valuable data.

-- CAV

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