Setting the innovation standards
Airbus has pioneered the use of composites and other advanced materials in aircraft design and manufacturing, resulting in an industry-leading product line of economical and environmentally-friendly jetliners – from the single-aisle A320 Family to the 21st century A380 flagship and new-generation A350 XWB.
Composite materials maximise weight reduction – as they typically are 20 per cent lighter than aluminium – and are known to be more reliable than other traditional metallic materials, leading to reduced aircraft maintenance costs, and a lower number of inspections during service. Additional benefits of composite technologies include added strength and superior durability for a longer lifespan.
To fully leverage these benefits, Airbus is continuously developing technologies to improve the speed of composite manufacturing, as it is more complicated than with traditional metallics. In addition, the company regularly seeks new-generation applications for composite materials during the development processes and beyond.
For a cleaner environment
Composites are corrosion-free, which lessens the quantity of chemicals necessary to protect structural components. The weight reductions from composites also result in lower fuel consumption during an aircraft’s operational lifetime.
More than 50 per cent of the next-generation A350 XWB is made of composites, marking a significant milestone for aircraft production. This jetliner also represents the first Airbus aircraft that utilises a higher percentage of composite technologies than metallic applications. Its fuselage panels, frames, window frames, clips, and door are made from carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP), with a hybrid door frame structure consisting of this material and titanium being used for the first time.
By applying composites on the A350 XWB, Airbus has increased the service intervals for the aircraft from six years to 12, which significantly reduces maintenance costs for customers. The high percentage of composites also reduces the need for fatigue-related inspections required on more traditional aluminium jetliners, and lessens the requirement for corrosion-related maintenance checks.
Beyond the in-service inspection requirements, composite materials are evaluated during the manufacturing process through non-destructive testing (NDT) to guarantee “defect-free” qualities. To enhance this process, Airbus is developing advanced NDT methods for future applications in cooperation with research institutes.
Airbus also recognises the individual operational advantages of both composites and metallics, and ensures that an overall airframe always will feature an optimum balance of both materials. As a result, the company continues to research and develop advanced ultra-light alloys in parallel to composites – supporting its philosophy to utilise the most efficient material possible for each and every aircraft component.