What will air transport look like in the year 2050? A recent report titled “The Future by Airbus” may have the answers.
While celebrating its own four decades of innovation, Airbus is imagining what air travel will look like 40 years from now while recommending steps to ensure that air transport remains one of the safest, most efficient forms of travel.
The report contains recommendations that would significantly reduce waste in the air transportation system, resulting in a reduction in travel time, fuel consumption, and CO2 emissions.
Here is a brief synopsis of the five-part recommendation for more efficient air travel. For a more comprehensive overview, visit Smarter Skies.
An aircraft draws on its power reserves more during takeoff than at any other time, and requires comparatively little fuel while maintaining cruising altitude. Therefore, if reduction in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions is the goal, then the logical place to start is with takeoff.
The recommendation: assisted takeoffs. The energy required for takeoff could be sourced to a mechanism on the runway itself. Aircraft could be maneuvered onto the track and assisted via some mechanism of propelled acceleration (electro-magnetic motors are suggested). Planes could then be constructed lighter, engines made smaller, and fuel consumption reduced.
2. Express skyways
Currently, international and domestic travel is facilitated across disparate air service providers and results in inefficient, circuitous flight paths, leading to wasted time and wasted fuel. However, studies conducted by Airbus, in collaboration with Bristol, Cape Town, and Stanford University, suggest that new systems of “cooperative flight” (based on the reduction in drag achieved by birds flying in V-formation) and updated air corridors could result in fuel savings of 10-12 percent and a reduction in emissions of up to 25 percent.
3. Free-glide approaches and landings
This idea is probably simpler in concept than in execution: in place of the current landing procedure consisting of staged descents and instances of circling in congested airspace while waiting for a landing spot, both requiring the use of fuel, aircraft could enter a free-glide descent made possible with better air traffic management and a landing system consisting of the same renewably-powered system used for eco-climb takeoffs.
4. Ground operations
Reduced engine taxiing, which, According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), could reduce up to six million tons of CO2 emissions each year, is the goal of implementing technologically enhanced ground operations. This would be accomplished via autonomous receiving vehicles, powered with stored energy, that could direct and carry aircraft so that engines can be turned off sooner.
Aviation currently represents 2 percent of total manmade CO2 emissions, and while emissions have been cut over the last 40 years by more than 70 percent, alternative fuel sources are required to ensure long term sustainability. Potential alternatives include electricity, hydrogen, solar, and biomass energy sources.
In addition to the five “smarter skies” recommendations, Airbus also has worked out plans for The concept plane, featuring radical redesigns of aircraft architecture and engineering including the use of “intelligent materials” and virtual reality technology inside the cabin.
This leads to the obvious question, is any of this possible? It’s easy to say no, but keep this in mind: If you were to go back in time forty years ago to explain the concept of mobile internet technology, people would question either your honesty, your sanity, or your intelligence. Are we in a similar situation with Smarter Skies and The Concept Plane?