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Travel industry news

31 Jan 2019

BY James Chapple


New era of supersonic air travel could trigger hundreds of sonic booms daily

The skies over Britain could ring out to the sound of hundreds of sonic booms every day in as little as two decades, a new study has predicted.


New era of supersonic air travel could trigger hundreds of sonic booms daily

Research by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) estimates there could be around 5,000 commercial supersonic flights a day by 2035.

The ICCT has turned its attention to the work of three US start-ups working on new commercial supersonic aircraft (SST), and its study is based on 2,000 such aircraft linking 500 city-city pairs by 2035.

According to the ICCT, the fleet would support around 5,000 flights a day, with operations shared between 160 airports across the world, the majority likely to be international airports.

The United States is forecast to be the busiest country for SST travel handling 27% of the estimated 5,000 daily SST movements worldwide (1,317), followed by the UK and UAE, both with 7% (351 and 322 movements respectively).

However, any such movements in the US would be spread over a much larger geographical area, whereas certain regions of smaller nations such as the UK and UAE are, according to the ICCT, likely to be disproportionately affected.

Dubai and Heathrow airports are expected to be the world’s two busiest SST hubs, accounting for 7% and 6% of global SST movements daily, followed by Los Angeles.

The ICCT warns this could have dramatic consequences for noise pollution and carbon emissions.

“The two busiest airports, Dubai and London Heathrow, could each see more than 300 operations per day,” the ICCT study states.

“Other airports that could see 100 or more daily SST landings and take-offs include Los Angeles, Singapore, San Francisco, New York-JFK, Frankfurt, and Bangkok.

“The aircraft could double the area around airports exposed to substantial noise pollution compared to existing subsonic aircraft of the same size.”

The ICCT’s 500 city-city pairs were used to quantify the likely impact of the 100km wide (50km either side of an SST aircraft) “sonic boom corridors” generated by SST travel.

Properties and locations in these zones could, says the ICCT, be exposed to 200 sonic booms a day, based on a 16-hour flight day.

The ICCT’s boom corridor modelling shows how Europe would be heavily impacted on the basis of 2,000 SSTs being brought into service.

“Operations departing or landing in London Heathrow, particularly to and from Dubai, would expose parts of Ireland, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, and Turkey to between 150 and 200 sonic booms per day after combining with other cross-European traffic,” says the ICCT.


“Average frequency would be about one boom every five minutes over a typical day.”

While Nasa has researched low-boom aircraft with a perceived level of noise of 75 decibels, similar to that of a car door slamming, this work, says the ICCT, is unlikely to be utilised for “near-term” SST designs.

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