Environment: SST: Boon or Boom-Doggie?

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Proponents of the SST point out that the aircraft represents a technological advance in aviation, with valuable spin-offs for other segments of the economy. They also stress that every effort is being made to make the aircraft environmentally compatible. A major blast against SST critics was delivered recently in a trade journal article by Wayne W. Parrish, aviation editor of Ziff-Davis Publishing. Said Parrish of the yet-to-be-flown U.S. SST: "There is nothing quite so convenient as a target that hasn't been seen or heard."

Atlantic River. All the same, SST defenders have still not offered convincing proposals for dealing with the supersonics' most pressing problem: ear-shattering "sideline" noise generated at takeoff and landing. According to one estimate, the airport roar of a single SST will match that of five jumbo jets. Proposed solutions to sideline noise and sonic boom have thus far been less than encouraging. Some scientists have proposed recycling jet engine exhausts to reduce noise. Others have suggested powerful electrostatic fields to ionize and brush aside air molecules before they can pile up and form boom-producing shock waves.

In spite of all the flack, the SST program last week received a substantial boost when the House Appropriations Committee approved the $290 million requested for further development. Congress, reflecting on the millions already sunk into the aircraft, may well vote for continued, if reduced funding. But whether the SST will, in the words of Halaby, "turn the Atlantic into a river and the Pacific into a lake," or turn both into an ecological quagmire, remains to be seen. At about $40 million per plane (v. $23 million per jumbo jet), the U.S. SST has also left many people wondering whether such huge sums should be spent merely to get a relatively small number of travelers across the Atlantic and Pacific a few hours faster. Elwood Quesada, who was the Federal Aviation Agency's first administrator and is currently an American Airlines board member, frankly told the congressional subcommittee: "The feeling among airline executives is to wish that the SST would go away."

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