Eco-innovation at Airbus
… / Eco-efficiency / Eco-innovation


“Cradle-to-cradle” development

The A350-900 received Type Certification from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in September 2014 after a programme that included five A350 XWB test aircraft.

Every year… Airbus invests some 2 billion euros into research and development, most of which will be providing environmental improvements

As a leader in aviation technology, innovation has always been at the heart of Airbus’ success – from the introduction of fly-by-wire controls into civil airliners to the latest-generation A350 XWB. Naturally, the company relies heavily on innovation to further improve air transport’s environmental performance. 

As part of this effort, a “cradle-to-cradle” approach has been adopted by Airbus designers, who are developing products and technologies that take into account the entire lifecycle of an aircraft – from design all the way through to recycling and re-using.

The company also applies the same spirit to its manufacturing locations. By focusing on eco-efficient facilities and leaner processes, Airbus is achieving a low-energy footprint which puts it ahead of other major industries as well as achieving waste, water, VOC (volatile organic compounds) and CO2 reduction improvements.

Taking the lead

Airbus fully supports the Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe’s  long-term vision to reduce air transport CO2 emissions up to 50 per cent by 2050 (compared to 2005)

Airbus is committed to investing in continual improvements for its in-service jetliners, and applies cutting-edge technologies to enhance new aircraft. This direction is underscored by Airbus’ leading role in the European Union’s "Clean Sky Joint Technology Initiative” to develop new technologies with environmental improvements – in cooperation with other major European aerospace companies.

The company reaffirmed its commitment to the Clean Sky programme in September 2012, by agreeing with leading aerospace industry and research partners to continue this activity in “Clean Sky 2” – an extension of the original initiative that will run from 2014 to 2020.

Airbus also is contributing to the improvement of air traffic management (ATM) with its participation in the SESAR (Single European Sky ATM Research) joint undertaking, created to improve control of aircraft flying the skies of Europe, as well as to reduce airport congestion.

Game-changing technologies

Airbus has pioneered the use of composites and other advanced materials in aircraft design and manufacturing.

In its continued role as an innovation leader, Airbus is advancing a wide range of technologies that have significant environmental benefits – including the use of fuel cells to power an airliner’s cabin and systems. Such fuel cells produce electricity in a cleaner, more efficient way than combustion engines. In addition, water – one of only three by-products, along with heat and oxygen-depleted air – can be used for the aircraft’s water and waste system, saving weight and therefore reducing fuel consumption and emissions.

Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM) – the 3D printing process used in numerous projects across Airbus and its Airbus Group parent company – offers a completely new approach to production. Instead of obtaining a part by cutting away a solid block of material, it works from the inside-out, building the part layer by layer. An electron or laser beam is used to model the desired material (plastic or metal) according to a computer-generated design.

Airbus also has pioneered the use of composites and other advanced materials in aircraft design and manufacturing. Known to be more reliable than traditional metallic materials, composites maximise weight reduction, as well as reduce the number of inspections required during service.  

Students contributing to the aviation sector’s future

Since 2008, Airbus has hosted its biennial “Fly Your Ideas” competition with the dual-intention of motivating college students to pursue careers in aerospace, while simultaneously spurring new thinking to overcome industry challenges. 

Winning ideas 

• 2009: use of castor plant to develop first-ever single plant-based high performance composite materials for aircraft cabin components (University of Queensland, "COz")

• 2011: ground-based wind power generation system that exploits the wakes of aircraft generated during takeoff and landing (Nanjing University, “Team Wings of Phoenix”)

• 2013: luggage loading/unloading system for airplane cargo compartments to reduce workload of airport baggage handlers with an air cushion solution inspired by air hockey tables (University of São Paulo, “Team Levar”)

• 2015: airplane wings dressed in a composite skin that harvests energy from natural vibrations or flex in the wings to reduce the energy footprint of aircraft in-flight (Delft University of Technology, “Team Multifun”)

Fly Your Ideas – which involves three increasingly competitive rounds leading to a finale – is open to students of any nationality or discipline, enabling them to develop skills for a wide range of future careers. A grand prize is given to the team whose concept represents the greatest short- or long-term potential to improve the industry’s value and reduce its environmental impact.


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