Airbus reveals eco-friendly vision for 2050

Michelle Dunlop Herald Writer

Airbus showed off some pretty cool concepts for making air travel more efficient and more environmentally friendly in an update Thursday to its “Future by Airbus” site.

The European jet maker previously revealed ideas for the design of future aircraft and jet interior.

This update focuses more on Airbus’ ideas for “Smarter Skies” or airplane operations, including aircraft takeoffs, landings and fuel.

“We know people want to fly more in the future and our forecasts support this. We also know that they don’t want to fly at any cost,” Charles Champion, executive vice president of engineering at Airbus, said in a statement. “The future of sustainable aviation is the sum of many parts and success will require collaboration amongst all the parties who are passionate about ensuring a successful prospect for aviation.”

Here are the highlights from Airbus’ this Smarter Skies plan:

Aircraft take-off in continuous ‘eco-climb’

• Aircraft launched through assisted take-offs using renewably powered, propelled acceleration, allowing steeper climb from airports to minimise noise and reach efficient cruise altitudes quicker.

• As space becomes a premium and mega-cities become a reality, this approach could also minimise land use, as shorter runways could be utilised.

Aircraft in free flight and formation along ‘express skyways’

• Highly intelligent aircraft would be able to “self-organise” and select the most efficient and environmentally friendly routes (“free flight”), making the optimum use of prevailing weather and atmospheric conditions.

• High frequency routes would also allow aircraft to benefit from flying in formation like birds during cruise bringing efficiency improvements due to drag reduction and lower energy use.

Low-noise, free-glide approaches and landings

• Aircraft allowed to take free glide approaches into airports that reduce emissions during the overall decent and reduce noise during the steeper approach as there is no need for engine thrust or air breaking.

• These approaches would also reduce the landing speed earlier which would make shorter landing distances achievable (less runway needed).

Low emission ground operations

• On landing aircraft engines could be switched off sooner and runways cleared faster, ground handling emissions could be cut.

• Technology could optimise an aircraft’s landing position with enough accuracy for an autonomous renewably powered taxiing carriage to be ready, so aircraft could be transported away from runways quicker, which would optimise terminal space, and remove runway and gate limitations.

Powering future aircraft and infrastructure

• The use of sustainable biofuels and other potential alternative energy sources (such as electricity, hydrogen, solar etc) will be necessary to secure supply and further reduce aviation’s environmental footprint in the long term. This will allow the extensive introduction of regionally sourced renewable energy close to airports, feeding both aircraft and infrastructure requirements sustainably.