‘Cooperation needed’ to reduce aircraft emissions

Airlines, aircraft manufacturers and airport operators will have to work together if ambitious environmental targets are to be met by 2050.

This assessment, delivered by Airbus UK R&D chief Colin Sirett at The Engineer Conference in Birmingham, falls in line with the European Commission’s Flight Path 2050 which lists among its aims significant reductions in fuel burn, CO2 emissions and noise from aircraft.

‘Future targets are being driven by legislation in Brussels and the rest of the world is waking up to similar legislation so we have to improve reliability, we have to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels,’ said Sirett, who outlined the complexity of aligning legislative requirements and technology solutions to the business needs of Airbus and its customers.

Many airlines, he said, are currently struggling to achieve double digit returns as they balance their investment in mature products – expected to have a product lifecycle of around 30 years – with cash operating costs such as fuel, crew, and maintenance.

Additionally, there will be a 109 per cent increase in passenger aircraft by 2031 and demand for air travel will increase by around 4 to 5 per cent a year, adding to the one billion of the world’s population that has access to air travel today.

Airports will have to expand to cope with the upsurge in demand whilst local transport operators and authorities are expected to improve the speed and efficiency in which airline passengers move to and from airports.

Flight Path 2050’s targets include a 75 per cent reduction in aircraft CO2 emissions from the year 2000 baseline, NOx reductions of 90 per cent and a reduction in perceived noise from aircraft of 65 per cent. There will also be a requirement for autonomous taxiing, cutting emissions entirely from ground based movement of aircraft.

On the OEM side, Sirett said manufacturing and design will be crucial to implementing the aims of Flight Path 2050 and that the ‘Holy Trinity’ of aircraft design – namely shape, weight and propulsion; three factors that  consider materials, manufacture, product support, design and flight physics – is well placed to accommodate the changes.

He said morphing structures, green coatings, corrosion resistant materials, and integrated composite structures are just a few of the ways in which aircraft OEM can accommodate demands.

Fuel savings through lightweighting are significant and in 40 years the use of composite parts has moved on from low-stress components such as fairings to parts including the centre wing block used on the A380.

The A350’s main wing and fuselage are made from composites and over half of the A350XWB will be made from composites (52 per cent composites, 7 per cent steel, 14 per cent titanium, 20 per cent AL, AL-Li, 7 per cent miscellaneous materials).

On the manufacturing side, Sirett said further improvements will come though improved component and assembly procedures, systems integration into the airframe, improved tooling, high-rate manufacture, creating GPS enabled factories, and cutting the number of holes drilled from 60 million a year to 40 million.

Furthermore, halving the product life-cycle of aircraft to 15 years would give aircraft manufacturers and airlines the ability to incorporate technology changes that further improve the business case, environment and flight experience for passengers.