July 16, 2018 / 9:08 AM / 7 months ago

Airbus Driving Sustainable Aviation

Much of the world is aiming to meet the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, and the aviation industry has been stepping up its efforts to make flying friendlier to the environment. 

That’s spurred aircraft makers Airbus and Boeing to pursue new designs and technologies. For example, Airbus is aiming to ‘Tesla-fy’ the skies, working with Rolls-Royce and Siemens to develop a hybrid-electric engine to cut air and noise emissions from aircraft.

The company has also been working collaboratively to improve air traffic management as well as being a key player in efforts to develop sustainable aviation biofuels.

Global aviation is a driver of sustainable development, bringing together people and communities while supporting trade and tourism. A safe, eco-efficient and cost-effective air transport is an essential component to help achieve the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Adopted by the world’s governments in 2015, these Global Goals represent the world’s collective effort to combat poverty, inequality and climate change.

The air transportation market has grown 60 per cent over the last ten years, and it’s expected to increase 4.4 percent annually over the 2018-2037 period, according to Airbus’ 2018 global market forecast. Despite this growth, aviation is responsible for just 12 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions from all transport sources and around 2 per cent of global emissions.

Viewing climate change as one of the greatest challenges of our time, the industry has agreed on an ambitious roadmap with the goal of halving aviation’s net carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.

In October 2016, the UN International Civil Aviation Organisation agreed on the carbon offsetting and reduction scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), which will enable the industry’s shared goal of carbon-neutral growth.  The European Commission has also created the Flightpath 2050 goals for Europe’s aviation market, aiming to reduce carbon dioxide emissions per passenger kilometre by 75 percent by 2050, compared with 2000. It is also aiming to cut nitrogen oxide emissions by 90 per cent and perceived noise pollution from flying aircraft by 65 per cent. New generation of aircraft like the A350 XWB, which is 25 percent more fuel efficient than the generation it replaces, will help to achieve these targets.The European Commission goals also included an expectation that electric and hybrid-electric engines would enter the aviation market.

One of Airbus’ efforts to address aviation’s footprint has been to form a partnership with Rolls-Royce and Siemens to develop a flight demonstrator using hybrid-electric technology. The programme, called E-Fan X, will replace one of a regional aircraft’s four gas-turbine engines with a two-megawatt electric motor. 

E-Fan X is expected to begin a flight test campaign by 2020, and testing will determine how hybrid engines respond to thermal effects as well as managing thrust, altitude and the electric systems. 

Airbus is also involved in the ITAKA European initiative, or the initiative towards sustainable kerosene for aviation. It’s an effort to speed the adoption of aviation biofuels in Europe. Globally, over 40,000 commercial flights have already taken place on sustainable aviation fuel. In 2016, Airbus began offering its customers the option of delivering new jets using a blend of sustainable jet fuel. That means that from their first day of operation, an aircraft can begin reducing carbon dioxide emissions. While using biofuels still results in combustion, producing carbon dioxide emissions, some types of biofuels offer lower emissions on a life-cycle basis, because the fuels are generated using biomass or waste feedstocks, rather than by drilling for fossil fuels. If conventional aviation fuel is completely replaced by alternative fuels by 2050, that could reduce net carbon dioxide emissions by 65 per cent, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The European Commission has included developing sustainable alternative fuels as part of its Flightpath 2050 goals.

Airbus has also looked beyond just the aircraft to cut fuel use, seeking to develop new methods for air-traffic management. It’s been developing next-generation technologies that bring together air navigation service providers, aircraft operators and airport authorities to improve the overall system. Recent studies showed that developments could save the global aviation industry more than three billion gallons of fuel, eliminate 29 million tons of carbon emissions and reduce four million hours of delays. Airbus ProSky had developed methods to increase efficiency, such as having aircraft fly precisely along predefined routes and removing the need to circle to land. It can also predict air traffic volumes and adjust flight departure times to reduce the waiting time at the arriving airport. These can all help to cut down on noise pollution from aircraft as well as burning less fuel.

Altiscope, launched by Airbus’ A3 outpost in Silicon Valley, aims to use deep analysis, policy simulation and decision-modelling to allow different types of air-borne traffic – from unmanned drones to small auto-piloted air taxis to commercial passenger jets — to share airspace safely and efficiently.

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