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Kansas, FAA sign deal for supersonic flight corridor

Published: Dec. 17, 2020 at 11:33 AM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The FAA has signed a deal with Kansas regarding a supersonic flight corridor.

Governor Laura Kelly says she and Kansas Department of Transportation Secretary Julie Lorenz announced on Thursday that KDOT and the Federal Aviation Administration have finalized an agreement establishing the Kansas Supersonic Transportation Corridor to test non-military aircraft that can fly faster than the speed of sound, or Mach speed.

“To be able to deliver this new opportunity for our country is yet another example of Kansas cementing its reputation as a national leader in the aviation industry,” Governor Kelly said. “This high-altitude flight corridor gives Kansas a strategic advantage in attracting companies involved in the development of supersonic aircraft, and will play a significant role in our state’s ability to encourage economic development as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Gov. Kelly said KDOT Secretary Lorenz, who chairs the Aviation Committee for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, commended the joint efforts that have resulted in Kansas securing the SSTC. She said Lorenz acknowledged Kansas Senator Jerry Moran’s involvement in the process coordinating with the FAA, NASA, the Air Route Traffic Control Center and the National Institute of Aviation Research at Wichita State University.

Sen. Moran said industry forecasts show a market for as many as 300 sophisticated supersonic aircraft over a period spanning a decade, which represents as much as $40 billion in revenue and requires a “deep bench of skilled manufacturing talent.”

“This year marks 73 years since Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier, and with this supersonic flight corridor Kansas will have a unique role in the next generation of supersonic transportation,” Senator Moran said.

Gov. Kelly said the Kansas SSTC is a 770-nautical-mile racetrack-shaped corridor at or above an altitude of 39,000 feet. She said the FAA’s Kansas City Air Route Traffic Control Center looked at and tested this route to protect the safety and efficiency of the National Airspace system. She said this corridor is entirely in federal airspace above the state of Kansas and runs the length of the state, just north of the Kansas-Oklahoma border. She said the route will support sustained flight up to Mach 3 and is within reach of various airports that are equipped to provide fuel, ground and technical support.

Bob Brock, KDOT Director of Aviation, said the SSTC gives innovators like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Aerion, Spike and Boom Aerospace the airspace required to test aircraft designs that reduce the impact of sound on nearby communities. He said the Kansas supersonic corridor also offers logistical advantages by being the first and only such commercial supersonic flight test route in the nation’s interior.

“I’m really excited about quiet supersonic technology and its ability to be transformative for flight and our economy,” said Jim Bridenstine, Administrator of NASA.

Bridenstine said NASA is currently working with the industry to build supersonic aircraft with “low-boom” or “no-boom” flight characteristics.

According to Gov. Kelly, in order to provide safety margins for the operations, the KDOT Division of Aviation, FAA Central Region, Air Route Traffic Control Center and Lemasters Group Consulting jointly wrote new procedures for operators. She said aircraft will only enter the SSTC at specific points and will be required to clear flight routes before takeoff. She said the SSTC is located in generally low-volume airspace, helping to minimize any effect on existing flight routes and airports.

Gov. Kelly said KDOT also partnered with WSU’s National Insitute of Aviation Research to collect noise data and live telemetry from the aircraft that will be used by both the FAA and aircraft manufacturers to evaluate performance.

“We help manufacturers refine aircraft designs every day and flight tests are one of our core strengths,” said Dr. John Tomblin, WSU Senior Vice President for Industry and Defense Programs and NIAR Executive Director. “This partnership with KDOT provides a sophisticated and cost-effective flight test capability within reach of every major aircraft manufacturer in the country.”

According to Gov. Kelly, the FAA recently proposed a new rule that would modernize the procedure for requesting special flight authorizations to operate at supersonic speeds over the U.S. She said Kansas state officials are hopeful that data from the corridor will help policymakers and the FAA make informed judgments on issues that will drive the future of the aviation industry.

Gov. Kelly said Kansas has consistently served in a leadership role for the aviation industry. She said research efforts such as these could shape the future of air travel in ways that reduce environmental impacts as well as facilitate global travel in a much more efficient and affordable manner.

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