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Estimating supersonic commercial aircraft market and resulting CO\(_2\) emissions using public movement data


Interest and effort in re-introducing civil supersonic transport (SST) airplanes as a means of travel have surged in the past decade. Current major endeavours are underway for both commercial and business supersonic vehicles. The value proposition for these aircraft exists for high-net-worth individuals and business-class travellers who value time savings more than the potential cost associated with supersonic travel. One important driver for the higher travel cost is the increase in fuel consumption for an SST due to higher cruise speeds. Even though the new SSTs in development should be more fuel-efficient than SSTs of the past, comparing to a subsonic aircraft flying the same routes, an SST that burns more fuel while having fewer passengers (pax) on board per trip yields significantly higher fuel burn per passenger for these operations. However, due to the higher ticket costs and other limitations such as noise and emissions, supersonic commercial operation is not expected to capture a large portion of the aviation market. This means that in the broader scope of global aviation, the effect of increased fuel burn per pax on fleet-level carbon dioxide (CO\(_{2}\)) emissions is unknown. Also, due to uncertainties in the effectiveness of sonic boom reduction technologies, it remains unclear whether supersonic over-land flight will be permitted in the future. This study formulates a methodology that employs a bottom-up approach for estimating the demand for supersonic commercial operations in the coming decades, using only publicly available subsonic baseline-fleet data. The scope of this work focuses specifically on the supersonic commercial aviation market and does not consider the supersonic business jet market. The constraints and limitations identified while using publicly available data is key to understanding the data requirements for executing market assessment studies of this type. The bottom-up methodology for demand estimation is implemented, and the environmental impact of the estimated market is determined. The results identify a supersonic commercial flight demand of 34–776 daily, global flights in 2035, growing to 52–1164 in 2050, corresponding to low and high demand scenarios, respectively. These fleets will contribute approximately 1.43–28.25 megatonnes (MT) of CO\(_{2}\) to global aviation emissions in 2035, growing to 2.20–42.50 MT of CO\(_{2}\) in 2050. These emissions in 2035 and 2050 represent a 0.16–3.08% and 0.24–4.63% increase in CO\(_{2}\) emissions with respect to the 2018 global subsonic commercial aviation fleet.

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This project has received funding from the Clean Sky 2 (CS2) Joint Undertaking (JU) under Grant agreement no. 864521 (Seventh Framework Programme) with the “OASyS” moniker. The JU receives support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and the Clean Sky 2 JU members other than the Union. This project was carried out by the Aerospace Systems Design Laboratory at Georgia Tech Lorraine (ASDL@GTL) in Metz, France, under the Georgia Tech-CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) UMI 2958 (Unités Mixtes Internationales) research partnership. The authors dedicate special thanks to Ralf Berghof and Nico Flüthmann of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) for their guidance and support. The authors would also like to express gratitude to members of the OASyS Advisory Board for their important contributions, specifically Dr. J. Holger Pfaender for sharing his routing algorithm tool and diligently computing trajectories for the OASyS team. The results and discussion published in this paper are only the views of the authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of DLR nor the CS2JU.

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Correspondence to Colby J. Weit.

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Weit, C.J., Wen, J., Zaidi, T.A. et al. Estimating supersonic commercial aircraft market and resulting CO\(_2\) emissions using public movement data. CEAS Aeronaut J 12, 191–203 (2021).

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  • Supersonic transport
  • Fuel burn
  • Emissions
  • Forecasting
  • Market estimation
  • Environmental impact