You’re all ready to go on vacation, the highlight of your entire summer. You head to the airport bright an early to get on your flight, strapped in for the long haul. But as you start to board the flight, you realize just how long you are going to be in that metal tube for. But why does it have to be that way? With the incredible technological advances we have made in the past few decades, why are airplanes moving at the same speed as they have for a long time? There’s a lot of reasons for that, some of which are purely up to the airlines and some of the others are due to actual technical reasons.
To talk about why planes aren’t getting any faster, we have to first understand the history of commercial flight. There has been a refusal to break the sound barrier in commercial flight because of how many inconveniences it causes. Breaking the sound barrier uses a lot of fuel, causes a disturbance to both passengers and people under the plane on the ground. Sonic Booms in the air can cause damage to windows and other fragile items on the ground, and as a result peoples homes were being damaged when supersonic flights were flying domestic.
Many of you might be familiar with a flight service called Concorde, they were offering flights from America to Britain because it didn’t cause disturbances over domesticated areas. According to this article, the main reason that the Concorde was required was because of all extremely high costs. By the time they had managed to create the plane, they were already three times over their R&D budget. Supersonic flight also takes a large amount more fuel, and during the 1970’s fuel costs were already extremely high due to the oil crisis. This made the barrier to entering the Concorde market exceptionally unwise for most airlines. They also couldn’t fly over mainland America, so these flights were limited to being Transatlantic.
The failure of the Concorde has set back the airline industry massively, instead of now going to spend their money to research faster flights, airplane manufacturers are now looking for ways to use less fuel in order to be more cost efficient and save the environment. Since drag is such a big technical issue when flying, we can look at the fact that doubling our speed will increase the drag force by 4 factors. This causes fuel costs to rise at a disproportionate rate, and it’s not cost efficient to fly these planes because people aren’t willing to pay first class prices for a simply faster flight. So until we are able to find a way to break the sound barrier using less fuel and not create a disturbance when flying over land, speeding up our commercial flights will not happen. Maybe the real future lies in teleportation, then.