Have you ever wondered what air travel will be like in the future?
When we think “future air travel”, some of us imagine concepts (such as the image above) and sustainable aviation to come into existence 100 to 200 years from now, but for Airbus, this is what they envision 50 years from now. The future is looking bright!
Airbus’ vision for 2050 air travel has been named the “Smarter skies”, which focuses on these five elements: eco-climb, express skyways, low-noise, free-glide approaches and landings, low emission ground operations, and use of sustainable biofuels and energy supplies. Each one concentrates on the advances in technology and the demands of the passenger, while still respecting the environment. Let’s take a deeper dive into each of the five sections above to get a better understanding of what the future of air travel has in store for us.
When an airplane takes off, it uses a lot of energy, and the energy used depends on the length of the runway, temperature, speed of the wind, and the weight of the plane.
The eco-climb is a way for the airplane to save a lot of fuel by using a machine to help it take off, which will also allow the plane to carry less fuel. As a result, planes can reach 30,000 feet faster than they do now. The best part is that once the airplane is at cruising altitude, it doesn’t require much fuel.
Moreover, the use of the eco-climb can also reduce CO2 emissions, which not only saves the airline money but also helps the environment as new, sustainable sources of energy are used (more of which we’ll discuss later).
The concept of express airways involves planes traveling together from point A to point B, creating shorter flight routes. Rather than zigzagging through different airspaces, aircraft can navigate more directly and thus more quickly, efficiently and safely via “optimal gate-to-gate flight paths or express flyways”. A savings of 20 minutes can cut fuel by 1,598 pounds, which in turn minimizes CO2 emissions by 5,033 pounds!
How can this happen? The airline would use a 4D navigation system that would automatically choose the most efficient route, taking into consideration the weather, conditions in the atmosphere, as well as nearby planes.
Just like birds flock together, planes can do the same. Plus, the aircraft can absorb wind currents from each other, saving even more fuel.
Low-Noise, Free-Glide Approaches & Landings
In today’s world, airplanes have to land and take off one-by-one, oftentimes creating air traffic, which in turn wastes more fuel because they have to circulate the airspace and wait for the go signal so they can land.
Like eco-climb, free-guide landings would allow the aircraft to use minimal thrust while pinpointing the exact landing position. This would also require the aircraft to glide smoothly into airports as their engines are running on idle, greatly reducing fuel burn, emissions and noise.
Moreover, this will decrease runways by about 33 percent, allowing for construction of mini-airports closer to city centers. This can mean that you will no longer have to drive far to get to your next flight (as long as you live in a major city)!
Low Emission Ground Operations
Taxiing from the runway to the airport not only takes time, but it also emits about 6 million tones of CO2. With low emission ground operations, machines such as “autonomous receiving vehicles” can help clear runways, and also speed up the process of getting passengers off the plane. Gate delays would no longer be an issue! Plus, it would give passengers more time to get to their connecting flight.
Some options to make this work is to use electromagnetic currents flowing through runway-installed tracks. Sounds too good to be true? We like to think not.
Use of Sustainable Biofuels
One of the biggest challenges airlines have in today’s world is, (1) how to reduce CO2 emissions, and (2) what new energy sources will power these massive pieces of metal.
Carbon-based fuel has been shown to be the best source of energy for planes “because of intangibles such as the ability to maintain stable temperatures”. However, sustainable energy sources, like that from living things or the waste they produce, can give these monsters the same type of benefits without harming the plane’s power system, which will have little to no impact on the environment.
Airbus pushes for the creation “of second-generation sustainable aviation fuels” also known as biomass that comes from sources such as algae, wood chip waste, camelina, plants that grow in salt water, waste produce and yeast. Now that would be quite amazing! If only the aviation industry can speed up this process will we be moving towards a greener, safer future.
Aside from advancements in air travel, Airbus has designed a concept plane that fits in with these visions of future air travel. However, although just a concept, we can only hope that the future will be just as exciting.