On September 6, 2012, the Toulouse-based company Airbus – one of the world’s leading aircraft manufacturers – released its vision for what flying will be like in 2050. Airbus says it encourages its engineers to “think widely and come up with `disruptive’ ideas which will assist our industry in meeting … 2050 targets.” Read about five innovative ideas from Airbus, below.
Airbus says the technology already exists to fly shorter and more precise routes. The five concepts will get passengers from A to B quicker, it says, while helping the industry meet its target to halve CO2 emissions by 2050. Airbus’ Smarter Skies concepts are:
1. Aircraft launched into continuous ‘eco-climb’ — Assisted take-off using renewably powered, propelled acceleration, would see aircraft climb rapidly to their most efficient cruising altitude, reducing emissions and noise. As mega-cities become a reality and space becomes a premium, runways could be shortened to minimise land use.
2. Aircraft in ‘free flight’ and formation along ‘express skyways’ — Intelligent aircraft would be able to self-organise and select the most efficient routes (‘free flight’), making the optimum use of prevailing weather and atmospheric conditions. Planes could rendezvous in mid-air and flock like birds in formation to reduce drag and thus fuel consumption and emissions
3. ‘Low-noise’ glided approaches and landings — In descent, aircraft could glide smoothly into airports with engines running in idle, significantly reducing emissions and noise. Slower landing speeds would make shorter runways a viable possibility at both ends of the journey
4. Low emission ground operations — Landing positions could be optimised with enough accuracy for autonomous, renewably powered taxiing carriages to be ready, clearing runways quicker and optimising terminal space to remove runway and gate limitations. Engines could be switched off sooner, further reducing on-the-ground handling emissions
5. Powering future aircraft and infrastructure — The use of sustainable biofuels and other potential alternative energy sources such as electricity, hydrogen and solar, will secure supply and further reduce aviation’s environmental footprint. This will allow the extensive introduction of regionally sourced renewable energy close to airports, feeding both aircraft and infrastructure requirements.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.