THE FUTURE OF FLYING
THE AIRLINE INDUSTRY IS BECOMING MORE ENVIRONMENTALLY CONSCIOUS AND TECHNOLOGICALLY ADVANCED. QATARTODAY GIVES THE LOW-DOWN ON THE INNOVATIONS IN FLYING BY THE TWO MANUFACTURERS WHO SUPPLY THE NATIONAL CARRIER.
The airline industry is becoming more environmentally conscious and technologically advanced. Qatar Today gives the low-down on the innovations in flying by the two manufacturers who supply the national carrier.
If you are among the many business people who spend weekdays flying in and out of Doha and thereafter suffer from pangs of “environmental mindfulness” when contemplating the amount of carbon dioxide you contributed to the atmosphere, there is some respite. Air travel is getting much easier to defend.
A report by Michael Sivak, Director, Sustainable Worldwide Transportation, University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, analyses recent trends in the amount of energy needed to transport a person in the US over a given distance either in a light-duty vehicle or on a scheduled airline flight. His calculations reveal that the energy intensity of driving (BTU per person mile) is greater than that of flying. Furthermore, because the future energy intensity of flying will be better than it currently is, the calculated improvements underestimate the improvements that need to be achieved for driving to be less energy intensive than flying.
Sivak says, “My analysis indicates that, in the US, to transport a person one mile on a commercial aircraft takes about 2033 BTU, as compared to 4211 BTU for driving. Consequently, flying consumes about 52% less energy per person mile than does driving.”
Recently adding to the benefits of flying, commercial aircraft company Airbus and Qatar Airways (QA) seem to have found a solution to the perennial jet lag with their latest A350 XWB. “A350 XWB's cabin design is said to be of optimum design and it incorporates smooth curves, flowing lines, wide windows with straighter sidewalls and a flat floor in the cabin further increasing overall comfort and spaciousness,” says Fouad Attar, Managing Director, Airbus Middle East. “Furthermore, the A350 XWB is outfitted with LED lighting, mimicking natural sunrise and sunset illumination that helps the body adapt to jet lag on long-range flights. The system is capable of producing 16.7 million different light colour combinations that can be set for any flight length, helping the body to sync faster with the local arrival time."
Not just this, but even the cabin pressure is well maintained with “its advanced filtering systems and a complete change of cabin air every two to three minutes” and the environment is enhanced by “precise air management providing a draft-free environment, homogeneous temperature and multiple temperature zones for precise adjustments”. It also keeps the cabin pressurised at the equivalent of an altitude of 1,828.8 metres (6,000 feet). Attar says this should improve comfort for passengers and minimise the effects of jetlag once they step back on the ground.
Boeing, not to be behind, counters that the company has had something close to this technology in service now for nearly five years on the 787 that has flown millions of miles and thousands of flights with both passengers and crew reporting that they arrive at their destination feeling more rested and less jet-lagged. Boeing claims to have almost the same technology as Airbus
has, for example, enhancements that allow for lower cabin altitude on the 787, combined with more humidity and cleaner air innovations have provided comfort and even reduction in jet lag according to Marty Bentrott, Vice President – Sales, Middle East, Russia & Central Asia, Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
“With the 787 Dreamliner family, we embarked on several studies with universities from around the world to understand how altitude, humidity, air contaminants, lighting, sound and space affect passengers,” says Bentrott. “And the overall experience is
underlined by the 787's large windows, which dim at the touch of a button,” he adds. Innovations all, but the cabin lighting to replicate reallife daylight and nightlife seems to the defining factor to reduce jet lag, a feature prominent on the Airbus model.
Flying with less
But innovation in flying is not new; it tops the list of priorities for manufacturers. Boeing has been researching a comprehensive environmental strategy that includes the designing and building of more fuel-efficient airplanes, developing sustainable aviation biofuel, and reducing the environmental footprint of Boeing facilities. Through this strategy, Boeing,
according to Bentrott,
supports efforts to meet the aviation industry's aggressive goals for CO2 reduction.
Industry targets include improving fleetwide efficiency by 1.5% annually; reaching carbon-neutral growth starting in 2020; and reducing net CO2 emissions by 50% by 2050, compared to 2005 levels.
This priority on research by all airlines has borne fruit, with the International Council of Clean Transportation (ICCT) mentioning that from 1968 to 2014 the fuel efficiency of new airplanes has improved by 45%.
And this has been an ongoing process, the main encouragement for the industry being that for a 1% improvement in efficiency the pay back adds up to $1 million in fuel savings over the course of a single-aisle plane's 25-year lifespan. “Since 2012, the Boeing ecoDemonstrator Program has tested more than 50 new technologies that can reduce fuel use, emissions and noise. The company conducts research into hybrid, solar- and electric-powered aircraft, as well as ways to recycle carbon fiber from airplanes when they are retired decades from now. Boeing is also an industry leader in efforts to develop 'drop-in' sustainable aviation biofuel,” says Bentrott.
“We collaborate on six continents with airlines, governments, researchers and others to expand the global supply and reduce the price of sustainable jet fuel, which cuts CO2 emissions by an estimated 50-80% compared to fossil fuel,” he adds.
Since its approval in 2011, the airlines have also made more than 2,000 commercial flights using biofuel blended with petroleum fuel. Biofuel requires no changes to airplanes or engines and performs as well as or better than Jet A/A-1, he informs.
QA has also committed its interest in leading development of cleaner-burning alternative fuels that reduce aviation's impact on air quality. QA has partnered with Qatar Petroleum, Shell, Airbus, Rolls-Royce, Qatar Science & Technology Park, and Woqod to advance the use of alternative fuels on commercial flights. A cleaner-burning jet fuel with a Gas to Liquids (GTL) kerosene blend that would replace standard fuels across the industry pioneered successfully on a commercial flight of QA five years ago in an Airbus A340-600 on a revenue demonstration flight from London Gatwick, operating the airline's regular QR076 service to Doha with a full load of passengers.
While this feat was heralded, QA has not followed up on this with further flights with the same GTL fuel, which raises the question on the commercial viability of the fuel or the safety standards that make this practice unsuccessful or unsustainable. Since QA did not want to comment here, we keep that subject on the back burner.
Airbus, meanwhile, is also equally committed to the aviation industry's targets to reduce CO2 and achieve carbonneutral growth for the aviation industry by 2020. “Airbus has filled its product pipeline with aircraft both flying today (A380, A350 XWB) and in development (A320neo, A330neo) that reduce emissions and noise while meeting market needs. For example, the A330 today has a 20% lower fuel burn than its closest competitor, and the A330neo is projected to provide a further
14% reduction in CO2 emissions,” says Attar.
Where to from here
Innovations such as the Sharklets wingtip devices, which have been in service on Airbus' A320 family since 2012, are technological innovations that are groundbreaking and have shown up to 4% reduction in fuel burn. Similarly, its newgeneration jetliner brings together the very latest in aerodynamics, design and advanced technologies and materials to provide a 25% step-change in fuel efficiency compared to current aluminium longrange competitors. As the air transport sector continues to grow, Airbus and Boeing together believe that the industry as a whole must concentrate on technological advances, making planes more crowded, lighter, faster and more efficient.
In its report “The Future by Airbus”, the company says that every flight in the world could on average be around 13 minutes shorter by 2050. This would save around 9 million tonnes of excess fuel annually, which equates to over 28 million tonnes of avoidable CO2 emissions and a saving for passengers of over 500 million hours of excess flight time on board an aircraft. “Add to this new aircraft design, alternative energy sources and new ways of flying and you could see even more significant improvements,” says Attar
FOUAD ATTAR Managing Director Airbus, Middle East