Just like birds, every aircraft creates a wake while flying. Flying together could thus help aircraft to retrieve the lost kinetic energy by positioning a follower aircraft in the air upwash of one of the lead aircraft’s wakes.
Several years ago, Airbus began investigating the benefits of wake-energy retrieval for commercial aircraft. In 2016, a series of flight tests demonstrated that significant fuel savings could be achieved when two aircraft fly approximately 3 kilometres apart—without compromising passenger comfort.
To achieve this evolutionary step in operations, we have to look at the challenge from the perspective of all industry stakeholders. It’s a great opportunity for our industry to demonstrate a joint commitment to reducing our use of fossil fuels.
Nick Macdonald, fello’fly Demonstrator Leader
At the time, air traffic management technology was not mature enough to enable aircraft to fly so close together in airspace. But significant technology improvements—including real-time flight tracking—are now being made. These technology improvements have paved the way for the development of fello’fly, a new flight demonstrator project within Airbus UpNext. The goal of fello’fly is to prove the technical, operational and economic viability of wake-energy retrieval for commercial aircraft.
“Safety is our top priority at Airbus,” explains Nick Macdonald, fello’fly Demonstrator Leader. “We’re working to develop the functions necessary to assist pilots to safely stay in position behind the leader during a long-haul flight.”
If the fuel-reduction technology behind fello’fly proves viable, the aviation industry will benefit from a collaborative activity that demonstrates a clear commitment—between manufacturers, airlines, air navigation service providers, regulators and authorities—to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
And this collaborative activity could make a significant impact on aircraft’s environmental performance: fello’fly is expected to produce fuel savings of between 5-10% per trip. This means several tons of fuel and CO2 emissions could be saved during every fello’fly trip.
“To achieve this evolutionary step in operations, we have to look at the challenge from the perspective of all industry stakeholders,” Nick explains. “It’s a great opportunity for our industry to demonstrate a joint commitment to reducing our use of fossil fuels.”