Airbus blue-sky thinking promises green aircraft
AIRCRAFT of the future could be catapulted into the air, flock like birds and glide in to land to save millions of tonnes of fuel.
The radical vision for greener flying by 2050 was unveiled today by Airbus, one of the world’s two largest plane makers, in response to growing pressure to curb aviation emissions.
The firm outlined how technology could be harnessed to cut the large amount of fuel used for take-off, while consumption is cut at cruising altitude by aircraft “surfing” behind each other.
Planes could also land with idle engines if air traffic control was improved to give them an uninterrupted descent path.
The report outlined how aircraft could become lighter and quieter by being propelled airborne using an electro-magnetic track along runways.
Comparing this to a “comfortable children’s funfair ride” rather than a “high-octane, white knuckle theme park”, Airbus said it would enable planes to climb more steeply to reach cruising altitude faster. Further ahead, the company said a similar system could even be used for landings, dispensing with the need for landing gear.
Airbus said aircraft taking off would be accelerated along the runway using a track system powered by renewable energy, although it admitted that “acceptable acceleration and deceleration limits of passengers would need to be determined”.
This could also cut runway lengths by a third.
Planes on long-haul routes could then fly in formation like birds to save fuel. This could be achieved by aircraft reducing drag by “surfing” on the energy created by swirling air currents from the wing tips of the aircraft ahead.
Airbus said with more sophisticated communications, planes could fly some 20 wingspans apart, rather than the four-mile separation currently required.
Further fuel savings were predicted if air traffic control improvements allowed aircraft to descend without being diverted into “stacks”.
Airbus said this would enable planes to glide towards runways with their engines idle.
Charles Champion, the firm’s executive vice-president for engineering, said: “We know people want to fly more in the future and our forecasts support this. We also know that they don’t want to fly at any cost.
“Our focus is on meeting this continuous growth in demand, keeping the passenger, our customers and the environment at the centre of our thinking.”
He said savings from the better use of current technology could amount to nine million tonnes of fuel a year, but such innovations could increase this further.
Aviation experts welcomed the document, although green campaigners were sceptical.
Professor Marin Guenov, head of aerospace engineering at Cranfield University in Bedfordshire, said: “I find the vision challenging, exciting and largely feasible, subject to not only economic but also safety and security constraints”.
But a WWF Scotland spokesman said: “Despite all the promised efficiency gains, the aviation industry’s desire to keep on growing is incompatible with the urgent need to curb climate emissions from this sector.”
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 17 C
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Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: West