New ideas ready for take-off

Over the years, the aviation industry has reacted with a mixture of defiance, grudging acknowledgment and, occasionally, meek acceptance to suggestions that it needs to clean up its environmental act.

Currently accounting for just three per cent of emissions, it frequently claims that it’s little more than a scapegoat and that the environmental lobby would be better off focussing its attentions on the significantly larger contributions made, for instance, by the automotive sector.

But against a backdrop of rising fuel prices, increasing passenger numbers, and dire predictions (from the federal Aviation Administration) that there will be 60 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft by 2025, there are signs that the industry is beginning to take the environmental bull by the horns, and, pleasingly, that technology has a major role to play.

This week, in one of the biggest statements of intent yet, the EU launched the €1.6bn Clean Sky initiative – the largest European aeronautics research project ever.

The project, which involves Airbus, Dassault, Saab and Rolls Royce and is jointly funded by the EU has the ambitious aim of developing a range of technologies – from active wing systems to new materials, and new advanced engine configurations – that will enable step changes in emissions and could find their way onto new aircraft by 2015.

Given the slow pace of change in the civil aviation industry, it all sounds like an exceptionally tall order but, for once, the money, the will of the aviation industry and the technical expertise to make it happen are all in place. And as the Clean Sky project gathers momentum it could offer some fantastic opportunities for engineers from across UK industry and academia to make their mark on the future of aviation.

Jon Excell