NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Supersonic Jet Abandoned

April 6, 1999

After nine years and $1.2 billion in expenditures, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is abandoning its project to develop a supersonic transport, say officials.

  • NASA and Boeing were partners in a $10 billion program to develop a successor to the British-French Concorde that was 80 percent less noisy on takeoff and produced 75 percent less air pollution, in order to meet today's environmental standards.
  • They also wanted the plane to be commercially viable, with ticket prices only 20 percent higher than business class passengers pay today -- compared to the 800 percent more passengers pay to ride one of the 12 Concorde jets still in operation (out of 16 planes built).
  • One reason the Concorde never paid it is way is high maintenance costs: 50 percent of the $8,000 fare for a round trip between New York and London, compared to 12 percent maintenance costs paid for from business class and supersaver fares for new commercial jets.
  • The French and British governments spent $2.5 billion developing the Concorde, in 1982 dollars; but estimated development costs for the NASA jet increased to $20 billion.

Given the ambitious design goals of the project, say engineers, "It requires a revolutionary jump in technology...." and won't be feasible until 2025 -- or decades later. "The technical challange is not making a plane fly at those speeds," says Robert Cuthbertson, Boeing's executive in charge of supersonic plane development, "It's complying with environmental rules."

NASA reportedly plans to redirect research funds from the project to pay cost overruns on the International Space Station.

Source: Dennis Cauchon, "Successor to Concorde Can't Get Off the Ground," USA Today, April 6, 1999


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