NEXT GEN­ER­A­TION AIR­LIN­ERS

Air­bus and Boe­ing have dom­i­nated the sin­gle-aisle nar­row body space since the 1990s al­though their names and com­po­nent com­pa­nies have changed sev­eral times since then

SP's Airbuz - - Table of Contents - BY A. K. SACHDEV

THE FIRST HEAV­IER-THAN-AIR MA­CHINE got airborne in 1903 and in­stantly caught the imag­i­na­tion of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity al­though the fu­ture im­pli­ca­tions of the in­ven­tion were not yet crys­tallised enough to be gazed through. Ex­ploita­tion for both mil­i­tary and civil pur­poses be­came ev­i­dent grad­u­ally. As could be ex­pected, the mil­i­tary do­main grew more rapidly and, inar­guably, ad­vances in aero­space for de­fence ap­pli­ca­tions have been far ahead of the lev­els man­i­fest in the do­main of civil avi­a­tion. A note­wor­thy as­pect of the con­trast is that com­bat air­craft have tran­scended to the fifth-gen­er­a­tion and a sixth-gen­er­a­tion plat­form is be­ing bandied about in mil­i­tary cir­cles, im­plicit to this nu­mer­i­cal mea­sur­able of gen­er­a­tions how­so­ever dif­fused be its def­i­ni­tion, is the fact that, be­tween gen­er­a­tions, there is a no­tice­able bound to the next level in re­spect of speed, stealth, ma­noeu­vra­bil­ity and so on. On the other hand, in the civil avi­a­tion do­main, the pro­gres­sion has been steady and evo­lu­tion­ary with mar­ginal, in­cre­men­tal changes in­creas­ing the speeds, ranges and cabin sizes of suc­ces­sive mod­els and ver­sions. So it is not pos­si­ble to club char­ac­ter­is­tics for cur­rently ex­ist­ing air­lin­ers and pro­ject a quan­tum jump to a ‘Next Gen­er­a­tion’ In­stead, what is pos­si­ble is to look at on­go­ing de­vel­op­ments in the air­liner man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try to pick up trends point­ing to fu­ture en­hance­ments. THE SIN­GLE-AISLE NAR­ROW BODY SPACE. Air­bus and Boe­ing have dom­i­nated the sin­gle-aisle nar­row body space since the 1990s al­though their names and com­po­nent com­pa­nies have changed sev­eral times since then. Air­bus A320 fam­ily and Boe­ing’s 737 line have had a bit­terly con­tested duopolis­tic rule

glob­ally. Newer ver­sions with some not so sub­stan­tial im­prove­ments and en­large­ments from both the con­tenders, have kept the race be­tween them sim­mer­ing, much to the de­light of their cus­tomer air­lines. How­ever, in the be­gin­ning of this cen­tury, it started be­com­ing ap­par­ent that the mar­ginal in­cre­ments them­selves were be­com­ing pro­gres­sively smaller. Both were look­ing for a boon from tech­nol­ogy’s mu­nif­i­cence to add a big and size­able im­prove­ment to their ex­ist­ing ver­sions. An­other in­ter­est­ing as­pect of the quest was that ex­ten­sions of the A320 and the Boe­ing 737 were tend­ing to­wards the larger wide body air­lin­ers pro­duced by both. Thus the race be­came one of en­hanc­ing ex­ist­ing ver­sions. Both Air­bus and Boe­ing de­cided that they would work to make the ex­ist­ing ver­sions more cost ef­fec­tive and thus at­trac­tive to cus­tomers, by re­plac­ing the en­gines on ex­ist­ing A320 and 737 ver­sions and sup­ple­ment­ing the en­gine changes with some other de­sign and ma­te­rial changes. The A320­neo and 737 MAX were the new ver­sions with no­tice­able in­cre­ments in their per­for­mance, but not enough to be called a gen­er­a­tion leap. MID­DLE OF THE MAR­KET JET. As men­tioned ear­lier, ex­ten­sions of the A320 and the 737 were tend­ing to­wards the larger wide body air­lin­ers pro­duced by both. Around 2003, Boe­ing started talk­ing about a Mid­dle of the Mar­ket (MoM) jet that would fit snugly be­tween the nar­row body and the wide body, fill­ing the in­ter­ven­ing gap in pas­sen­ger ca­pac­ity and range. The moniker Boe­ing 797 was also bandied about. Air­bus ini­tially ridiculed the idea, but sub­se­quent ac­tions and it­er­a­tions showed that Air­bus was also al­lured by the idea, not the least be­cause it could not let Boe­ing be the only one in that space. Boe­ing per­ceives the MoM air­liner as lo­cated some­where be­tween its largest nar­row body (737 MAX9 with 178 pas­sen­gers and 6,510 km range) and its small­est wide body 787-8 with 242 pas­sen­gers and 13,621 km range. Air­bus would be look­ing at a com­peti­tor be­tween its largest nar­row body A321LR (206 pas­sen­gers, 7,400 km range) and its small­est wide body A330 -800 neo (257 pas­sen­gers, 13,900 km range). As can be seen from the above coarsely pre­sented sta­tis­tics, the gap that the MoM is be­ing pro­jected to fill, is not as much for Air­bus as for Boe­ing, Per­haps that is why the first step in this di­rec­tion orig­i­nated from Boe­ing. How­ever, progress in this area is hardly no­tice­able and may not be con­sum­mated by a new “gen­er­a­tion” from ei­ther of the two con­tenders. THE CROSS­OVER NAR­ROW BODY JET. While sev­eral orig­i­nal equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers (OEMs) have of­fered to the mar­ket pas­sen­ger car­ri­ers in the space be­low the nar­row body size, the air­line in­dus­try utilised air­craft largely in the 120 plus cat­e­gory for “full scale car­ri­ers” and 50 plus seaters ( jets and turbo props) for “re­gional” op­er­a­tions. Around a decade and a half ago, Em­braer with its sin­gle-aisle EJets fam­ily, served to dif­fuse that dis­tinc­tion some­what by op­ti­mis­ing for that in­ter­ven­ing space. Bom­bardier fol­lowed with CSeries fam­ily in the same space. This seg­ment is now be­ing in­creas­ingly re­ferred to as the Cross­over Nar­row Body Jet and is loosely de­fined as a jet air­liner with 70 to 150 seats. It is per­ceived as fill­ing the space be­tween the higher end of re­gional air­craft and the low­est strata of the sin­gle space nar­row body jet. The sig­nif­i­cance of this seg­ment be­comes note­wor­thy when seen in the re­cent moves by Air­bus and Boe­ing to cud­dle Bom­bardier and Em­braer re­spec­tively with the spe­cific pur­pose of con­trol­ling and pro­mot­ing the EJets and the C Series cor­re­spond­ingly while en­sur­ing they do not dent their mar­ket strengths. None­the­less, the Cross­over Nar­row Body Jet does not rep­re­sent a “gen­er­a­tion” change but merely serves to fill a gap that ex­isted be­low the nar­row body space. SU­PER­SONIC AIR­LINER. The idea of su­per­sonic pas­sen­ger air­liner orig­i­nated in the 1960s and the first su­per­sonic air­liner to en­ter pas­sen­ger ser­vice, the Con­corde, car­ried out its in­au­gu­ral com­mer­cial flights on Jan­uary 21, 1976, with Air France and Bri­tish Air­ways. Only 20 edi­tions were built in all and, due to the over­all pres­sures on air­lines and ris­ing cost of avi­a­tion fuel, its ap­peal faded rapidly and the last su­per­sonic pas­sen­ger ser­vice was flown on Oc­to­ber 24, 2003. The only other su­per­sonic air­liner to en­ter ser­vice was the Rus­sian Tu-144 and at no time did the to­tal num­ber of su­per­sonic air­lin­ers in ser­vice ever ex­ceed 30. How­ever, a more so­phis­ti­cated su­per­sonic air­liner is likely to de­but in the near fu­ture with de­vel­op­ments afoot in the United States (US), Rus­sia and Europe. No­table US pro­grammes are firstly, Na­tional Aero­nau­tics and Space Ad­min­istr­tion’s (NASA’s) QueSST and sec­ondly, Vir­gin Group’s tie up with Boom Tech­nol­ogy to pro­duce XB-1. QueSST (Quite Su­per Sonic Tech­nol­ogy) is toil­ing hard to elim­i­nate the sonic boom sound or at least re­duce it to ac­cept­able lev­els and is ex­pected to fly at speeds of Mach 1.4 (around twice the speed of to­day’s com­mer­cial air­lin­ers) and carry up to 120 pas­sen­gers over 9,200 km while the Boom air­craft is be­ing de­signed to be a 50-seater ca­pa­ble of a Mach 2.2 cruise over 7,400 km. The Boom XB-1 is ex­pected to con­sume three times the fuel per seat mile than cur­rent op­tions over long haul sec­tors; there is thus a shadow over its com­mer­cial vi­a­bil­ity. Rus­sian news sites have re­ported Rus­sian plans to pro­duce a huge su­per­sonic cargo plane called the Per­spec­tive Airborne Com­plex of Trans­port Avi­a­tion (PAKTA) ca­pa­ble of fly­ing at Mach 1.6 and car­ry­ing up to 180 tonnes over a range of 7,000 km. While the US pro­grammes are a cou­ple of years away from first flight, the Rus­sian pro­gramme may fruc­tify only by 2030. Euro­pean com­pany Air­bus ob­tained a US patent in 2015 for an “ul­tra-rapid air ve­hi­cle” de­signed to fly at Mach 4.5. The air­craft de­sign en­vis­ages a take­off like a con­ven­tional plane us­ing or­di­nary tur­bo­jet en­gines; once it is airborne, an open door in the stern of the plane re­veals a rocket mo­tor which starts and sends the air­craft into a near ver­ti­cal tra­jec­tory, ac­cel­er­at­ing it to su­per­sonic speeds. How­ever, with its un­con­ven­tional fuse­lage (a thick delta wing swept back to around 75 de­grees) and a pas­sen­ger cabin with only 24 seats, this model will re­quire ma­jor tweak­ing to be of com­mer­cial value. Sim­i­larly, other Euro­pean de­signs e.g. Long Term Ad­vanced Propul­sion Con­cepts and Tech­nolo­gies (LAPCAT) pro­gramme launched by Euro­pean Com­mis­sion are still far away from fruition, as com­pared to those from the the US ones. When the su­per­sonic air­liner flies com­mer­cially in a three to five years from now, a “gen­er­a­tion” jump may be said to have taken place (al­though cyn­ics could still play spoil­sport by re­call­ing the Con­corde and the Tu-144 pro­grammes of yore). CON­CLU­SION. Boe­ing’s am­bi­tion to pro­vide au­ton­o­mous pas­sen­ger air­line flight is a pro­gramme to watch out for. The idea is to see whether pas­sen­ger car­riage can be un­der­taken with a sin­gle pi­lot or even with no pi­lot on board while main­tain­ing com­mer­cially ac­cept­able safety lev­els as well as sat­is­fy­ing pas­sen­gers and in­sur­ers! Pos­si­bly, a pi­lot­less, trans-oceanic, pas­sen­ger flight would re­ally qual­ify to be a “gen­er­a­tion” leap. Mean­while, air­liner evo­lu­tion trudges on at a leisurely pace; dis­count­ing the jump to su­per­sonic speeds, the prob­a­bil­ity of an en­hance­ment in de­sign, ma­te­rial or con­fig­u­ra­tion so rad­i­cal as to be de­scrib­able as a gen­er­a­tion jump looks re­mote.

Boom XB-1: Vir­gin Group’s tie up with Boom Tech­nol­ogy will cre­ate this su­per­sonic air­line which can cruise at Mach 2.2

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