Supersonic flying: benefits and concerns

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Supersonic plane

Mains level : NA

The United Airlines of USA has announced it was ordering 15 Overture planes with the ability to travel at Mach 1.7, faster than the speed of sound, from the Denver-based startup Boom.

What is a Supersonic Plane?

  • Supersonic aircraft are planes that can fly faster than the speed of sound.
  • The technology for supersonic flights is actually over 70 years old, but only recently has been used for commercial flying.
  • Before 1976, when the first commercial supersonic flight took off, the planes were used entirely for military purposes.
  • Usually, supersonic planes can travel at the speed of around 900 kmph, twice the speed of normal aircraft.

What about the Overture supersonic plane?

  • The Overture aircraft would travel at the speed of Mach 1.7 or 1,805 kmph with a range of 4,250 nautical miles. In a single flight, it could carry 65 to 88 passengers and reach an altitude of 60,000 ft.
  • The company has expressed confidence in getting an “experimental” jet ready by 2022, start rolling out aircraft by 2025 and eventually open them for passengers by 2029.
  • It claims to build on Concorde’s legacy through faster, more efficient and sustainable technology.

Challenges with supersonic planes

Flying passengers at a supersonic speed is accompanied by a whole set of challenges.

  • Firstly, the costs of making “sustainable” supersonic planes are extremely high.
  • The very nature of its flying — using excessive amounts of fuel and energy — is likely to have high environmental costs.
  • Despite the use of sustainable fuels, greenhouse gas emissions are not nullified.
  • Secondly, the very speed of the planes results in producing excessive amounts of noise pollution in the environment.
  • The “Sonic Boom” created by these planes feels like an explosion to the human ear.
  • This, thus, limits where and when the supersonic planes can fly. They can only reach their actual speed until they are far enough from people and completely over the ocean.
  • Lastly, it would not be economically feasible for everyone. Only the very rich can afford supersonic planes, as a ticket is likely to be way costlier than a first-class ticket of a regular plane.
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