Thanks to improvements in technology since the 1970s, aircraft fuel burn and emissions have been reduced by 70 per cent, with a reduction in noise of 75 per cent.
In the future, as more people travel by air, the air transport sector will need to achieve further significant step changes while keeping air travel comfortable and affordable – and also achieving the aviation industry’s goal of halving carbon emissions by 2050.
Future-gazing by Airbus shows blueprints for radical aircraft interiors. Airbus engineers talk of morphing seats made from ecological, self-cleaning materials which change shape for a snug fit; walls that become see-through at the touch of a button, affording 360-degree views of the world below; and holographic projections of virtual decors, allowing travelers to transform their private cabin into an office, bedroom or even a “zen garden.”
The Airbus concept plane
More than a flight of pure fantasy, the Airbus Concept Plane illustrates what air transport could look like in 2050 – even 2030 if advances in existing technologies continue apace.
Airbus experts in aircraft materials, aerodynamics, cabins and engines came up with this “engineer’s dream.” It brings together a package of technologies that are unlikely ever to coexist in such a manner.
It is not a plane intended to fly – it is a representation of the main technological fields that are being explored to face future needs: a significant cut in fuel burn and emissions, less noise and greater comfort.
This ends may be may be met by ultra-long and slim wings, semi-embedded engines, a U-shaped tail and lightweight “intelligent” body – all features that will improve environmental performance.
The Concept Plane was unveiled by Airbus at the 2010 Farnborough International Airshow.
Learn more about the Airbus Concept Plane.
Going “green” with NACRE Pro Green
The European Union’s NACRE (New Aircraft Concepts Research) project – in which Airbus is an industry partner – is studying potential radical overhauls to aircraft design with the goal of improving eco-efficiency, optimising performance and reducing costs.
Within this effort, the NACRE Pro Green aircraft specifically aims at the reduction of an airliner’s operational environmental footprint. It features an unswept wing with a high span that reduces induced drag and friction drag, due to natural laminar flow. The engines are mounted on top of the rear fuselage above a U-tail, in a way that noise emissions are shielded by the wing and the tail. The engines’ very large fan diameter is optimized for slow jet speeds in order to improve fuel efficiency and decrease noise.
The design range of the NACRE Pro Green aircraft concept is relatively short in order to reduce the overall gross weight and is designed for lower cruise altitudes, so that the exhaust emissions will be washed out from the atmosphere with the troposphere’s thermal convection. It will use drop-in fuel with similar properties as kerosene, possessing high energy density – enabling lowest energy consumption.
Compared to current-generation aircraft, the design for ultra-low emissions will cause some limitations in operational aspects. The slow cruise speed would reduce the number of flights per day and thus affect its economic productivity, with a passenger’s overall travelling time increasing between 5-10 per cent. The high precision surfaces for the laminar flow wing could require special treatment and care in the manufacturing process. Likewise, the engine position on top of the fuselage is expected to require specific attention and increased effort during maintenance, compared to under-wing installations.