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Scott Benowitz writes about supersonic commercial passenger jets in the context of balancing environmental issues and the progress of new technologies

Readers who have read some of the articles that I’ve written for The Pavlovic Today will notice that I usually advocate for allocating funding for emerging green technologies throughout the world, and that I almost always agree with the Green Party, various environmental groups and  conservation organizations with regard to the need to preserve forests, deserts, islands and marine ecosystems.  However, there have been some instances in which I feel that the environmental groups were actually wrong, and they’ve blocked some infrastructure improvement projects as well as some aerospace projects, which ultimately weren’t likely to damage any ecosystems.  

As we approach the beginning of the third decade of the twenty- first century, we need to be extremely careful with regard to balancing the need to preserve ecosystems, to preserve rare and endangered species and the preservation of habitat for all species of wildlife throughout the world with the needs of the growing population of the human species as well.  

I’m not going to list all of the instances in which I feel that the environmental lobby has succeeded in blocking projects which I feel did not pose any serious threat to any species or to any ecosystems; in this issue I will discuss an aerospace technology which aviation engineers succeeded in mastering back in  the mid 1970’s, which was blocked largely by various environmental groups, and in two (2) subsequent articles, I will discuss two different examples in which I feel that the environmental lobby has either blocked projects unnecessarily or that their concerns are excessive, unrealistic or alarmist.

Supersonic Commercial Passenger Jets

In the mid 1950’s, a number of aerospace companies in the U.S. as well as Europe began researching designs for passenger jets which could travel at supersonic speeds.  Early prototypes of supersonic transports had been produced in the early 1960’s, and at the time, many people in the aviation industry were hoping that these would become a common model for commercial passenger jets throughout the world.

A number of environmental groups were involved in encouraging politicians in the U.S. as well as in a handful of other countries to enact the legislation which resulted in only a very small handful of supersonic commercial passenger jets from entering into service due to concerns about both noise pollution and air pollution.

It would have been easy to enact legislation which would require SST’s to fly at subsonic speeds while they’re over land, and to require that they’d only be permitted to accelerate to supersonic speeds when they reach open oceans, after they’ve passed a designated distance from land, thus reducing the jets’ effects on noise pollution.  The research which had initially suggested that SST’s would contribute a lot more to air pollution than subsonic passenger jets had been discovered to have been flawed.

Yes, supersonic jets did burn jet fuel faster than subsonic passenger jets, but jet fuel is becoming cleaner than ever now, and this project had never gone into production after it had been blocked back in the 1970’s.

BA and Air France were permitted to operate a very limited number of Aérospatiale Concorde jets, which flew daily from J.F. Kennedy Airport in New York City to Heathrow Airport in London and from NYC JFK to De Gaulle Airport in Paris beginning in 1975.  The last commercial Concorde flights were in October of 2003, thus ending supersonic passenger commercial aviation. Today, tourists can view the decommissioned Concorde jets when we tour the various aviation museums where they are now housed and displayed.

Scott Benowitz

Scott Benowitz is a staff writer for Afterimage Review. He holds an MSc in Comparative Politics from The London School of Economics & Political Science and a B.A. in International Studies from Reed...