The FAA is placing a priority on supporting the emergence of supersonic technologies, but the agency must apply appropriate regulatory and environmental safeguards, said a key agency official.
“Our focus…has been how we can support the reemergence of supersonic aircraft from a regulatory perspective to ensure that, as technology advances, the FAA is putting in place the necessary regulatory changes,” said Kevin Welsch, executive director of the FAA’s Office of Environment and Energy during a recent American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Aviation Forum.
For years, certification projects remained steady and “looked similar,” he said. But in the last few years, “all of a sudden that space has exploded in terms of the types of regulations we are doing… It is a lot of work for government agencies to catch up with innovation. That’s one of our major focuses,” Welsch said.
Welsch pointed to the two primary regulatory activities underway on supersonic, one involved with enabling certification fight testing and another establishing certification noise landing and takeoff standards. The agency is now sorting through comments on both proposals as it shapes a final rule
The proposals have been in the works for several years, he said, and will mark “a really big step” for supersonic aircraft development. “The challenge was to both provide enough flexibility to this emerging industry and market to allow continued development while also addressing considerations about noise exposure,” Welsch said, adding the agency is “trying to find a balance.”
Assessing environmental tradeoffs against aircraft technologies “is at the core of what my office does,” he said. “We spend a lot of resources in modeling those impacts and assessing them.” He acknowledged that in the supersonic realm, there will be organizations that simply have the policy to oppose development, and said it is difficult to work through issues with those who are not open to dialog.
However, the FAA is looking at how to mitigate effects and hopes to communicate that what is proposed from a noise standpoint is consistent with the majority of aircraft currently in production.
“On emissions, it’s going to be very difficult,” he conceded. “It’s going to be something that the industry needs to address very seriously.” Regulatory requirements need to address that as well. However, there are options, Welsch added, such as carbon offsets and sustainable fuel use.
Those rulemakings must “connect back” to international standards. “Ultimately, any standards that we put in the U.S. are good domestically, but these aircraft…need to be able to fly to other places,” he said. The rules must be harmonized, he added, noting the agency is working intensively with the International Civil Aviation Organization on a standards-setting process that could gain global acceptance.
“To do this, there’s a lot going on. It’s a really important piece,” he said.