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Airbus unveils 2050 vision for “Smarter Skies” based on 5 operational concepts

Global aircraft manufacturer Airbus released its latest installment of the Future by Airbus, its vision for sustainable aviation in 2050 and beyond. For the first time the vision looks beyond aircraft design to how the aircraft is operated both on the ground and in the air in order to meet the expected growth in air travel in a sustainable way.

Already, if the Air Traffic Management (ATM) system and technology on board the aircraft were optimized, Airbus research based on recent research suggests that flights in Europe and the US could on average be around 13 minutes shorter, and flights in other parts of the world could be shorter too. Assuming around 30 million flights per year, this would save around 9 million tonnes of excess fuel annually, which equates to more than 28 million tonnes of avoidable CO2 emissions and a saving of 5 million hours of excess flight time.

Adding to this new aircraft design, alternative energy sources and new ways of flying could result in more significant improvements.

The Future by Airbus’ Smarter Skies vision consists of five concepts which could be implemented across all the stages of an aircraft’s operation to reduce waste in the system (waste in time, waste in fuel, reduction of CO2). These are:

  • Aircraft take-off in continuous ‘eco-climb’. Aircraft would be launched through assisted take-offs using renewably powered, propelled acceleration, allowing steeper climb from airports to minimise noise and reach efficient cruise altitudes quicker. As space becomes a premium and mega-cities become a reality, this approach could also minimise land use, as shorter runways could be utilized.

  • Aircraft in free flight and formation along ‘express skyways’. Highly intelligent aircraft would be able to “self-organise” and select the most efficient and environmentally friendly routes (“free flight”), making the optimum use of prevailing weather and atmospheric conditions.

    High frequency routes would also allow aircraft to benefit from flying in formation like birds during cruise bringing efficiency improvements due to drag reduction and lower energy use.

  • Low-noise, free-glide approaches and landings. Aircraft would be allowed to take free glide approaches into airports that reduce emissions during the overall decent and reduce noise during the steeper approach as there is no need for engine thrust or air breaking. These approaches would also reduce the landing speed earlier which would make shorter landing distances achievable (less runway needed).

  • Low emission ground operations. On landing, aircraft engines could be switched off sooner and runways cleared faster, ground handling emissions could be cut. Technology could optimize an aircraft’s landing position with enough accuracy for an autonomous renewably powered taxiing carriage to be ready, so aircraft could be transported away from runways quicker, which would optimize terminal space, and remove runway and gate limitations.

  • Powering future aircraft and infrastructure. The use of sustainable biofuels and other potential alternative energy sources (such as electricity, hydrogen, solar etc) will be necessary to secure supply and further reduce aviation’s environmental footprint in the long term. This will allow the extensive introduction of regionally sourced renewable energy close to airports, feeding both aircraft and infrastructure requirements sustainably.

Comments

Engineer-Poet

Catapulting airliners to shorten takeoff rolls and reduce noise is a great idea.  If the catapult reached or exceeded the engine-out climb speed, the aircraft would be effectively proofed against an engine failure on takeoff.

Treehugger

Doesn't sound very serious to me...

Henry Gibson

There is no need for efficient aircraft. Very high temperature pebble bed reactors or other high temperature reactors can make all the fuel that is needed from water and collected CO2 at costs far lower than the world market demands. In the mean time all aircraft can be fueled with jet fuel made from coal at the mine for about a dollar a gallon. Airlines should have their own coal to liquid fuel, CTL, facilities or natural gas to liquid fuel facilities. They have already paid more than enough fuel costs to pay for many such facilities.

If electricity could be beamed from solar satellites then power could be beamed to flying aircraft with many tracking antennas. They would shut down their turbogenerators when beamed power was available.

New parts of cities with natural gas service should have two more pipes: Oxygen at high pressure and a return pipe for CO2. It can be thought of as a sewer for smoke. The CO2 can be stored in old oil or gas fields until used to make fuel. CO2 can be collected from the air if needed.

The heating for bitumen recovery from tar sand can be done with nuclear energy to prevent CO2 release. Coal and gas that was burnt in power plants can be be used to make liquid fuels when CANDU reactors replace them in less than five years construction time. Water can be extracted from the oceans by multiple effect distillation without much more heat needed from a power plant reactor. ..HG..

Lucas

What overwhelms the mechanics of air transportation is the lack of pilots. Between now and 2050 we will need 200,000.

There have already been flights that a computer flies from gate to gate. Of course, airlines would love to do away with those expensive pilots.

Would you fly without a pilot?

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