Organized by the European aircraft manufacturer Airbus, the Innovation Days event, which allows us to glimpse into the future of aviation, was held at the company’s center in Toulouse on May 21-22, 2019. I personally followed the event which was held for the first time at the Airbus Leadership University Campus together with 135 press members from 42 different countries.
The impact of the recent changes at the top levels of management at Airbus was certainly evident with the selection of speakers and subjects at the event. The format of this year’s event was slightly different from the previous ones. During the event, special panels and conferences were held to discuss the future of aviation with presentations of experts, while the participants were given the opportunity to experience new generation technologies with various mock-ups set up in an area called the Market Place.
Demand for 37,000 Aircraft in 20 Years
According to the official figures announced by Airbus, global aircraft demand is expected to be more than 37,000 in the next 20 years. The total list price of these aircraft is expected to be around US$4.6 Trillion. As air travel continues to grow, regulations become stricter, and as airlines become more competitive the need for a unique aircraft from all sides becomes apparent.
Performance of the A220 to be improved
The first major announcement at the Innovation Days event was about the planned actions to improve the performance of the A220 airplanes. Airbus signed one of the best deals in the history of commercial aviation by acquiring the majority shares in the production program of Bombardier C Series last year, and launching the aircraft under the name of A220, and just how lucrative this deal was will be more apparent over time.
In the 100-150 seat capacity regional jet market, Airbus has achieved impressive success with the competitive and efficient A220 aircraft. Airbus is planning to make the A220, which has performed very well so far, more attractive for airlines to use on more routes by increasing the range and maximum take-off weight.
Therefore, Airbus decided to increase the maximum take-off weight of A220 aircraft by approximately 2.3 tons. The planes with the new maximum take-off weight (MTOW) will be launched from the second half of 2020 onwards. In addition to the aircraft’s maximum take-off weight, their range will also be increased. Thus, the maximum range of the A220-100 will be 3400 nm, and the maximum range of the A220-300 will be 3350 nm.
Is the Boeing NMA’s Rival A321XLR?
Throughout the event,the most popular question thrown at Airbus from the guests was "will there be an A321XLR to compete with the Boeing NMA? Interesting answer one that should hopefully be clear soon. The fact that A321LR is the longest-range single-aisle airliner currently, has been repetedly emphasized.
The fact that the A220, A321neo/LR, and A330 are the best complementary solutions for airlines, puts Airbus’s product strategy in a different position from that of Boeing. Believing that the NMA model will be an inefficient project, Airbus officials are closely following Boeing’s steps.
Achieving fuel savings of around 15-20% with its A320neo family aircraft, Airbus aims to increase the efficiency of the aircraft by reducing the friction and noise levels even more with the new nacelle project they have jointly developed with Pratt and Whitney.
Pleased with the performance of the already in use A330-900neo, Airbus plans to complete the certification process for the younger brother A330-800neo by the end of the year.
Airbus officials state that their star A350 will provide great advantages to airline companies in the future with its advanced cockpit, cabin and maintenance systems, in addition to its great success in terms of digitization and connectivity.
With the completion of the A380 production in 2021, the answer to the question if Airbus will produce a larger version of the A350 to compete with the Boeing 777-9 or 777-10 is very clear: There will be no major change for the A350 until the next engine renewal!
Good news for Australians from Airbus!
Within the scope of the Sunrise project, Australia’s flagship Qantas Airways aims to reach destinations such as Paris, Cape Town, New York, and Rio de Janeiro with the non-stop flights from Sydney and Melbourne on the east coast of the continent.
The CEO of the company, Alan Joyce, has long been calling on Airbus and Boeing to develop an airplane that can cover ultra-long distances and fly non-stop between any two points of the world.
During Innovation Days, I also learned from one of Airbus’s top names that a new product was developed to meet the needs of Qantas. The future looks bright for Australians with this exciting news!
Manufacturing processes of planes are digitalizing
Among the products that we personally experienced at the Market Place during the event were efficient, safe and reliable technological equipment developed for the employees working in the manufacturing process of aircraft were quite remarkable.
Smart glasses with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology simulate the results of all actions taken by technicians on the aircraft. It is easier and more reliable than ever before for a technician to install meters of cables on the plane or to work on avionics systems using these technological glasses. Airbus also uploaded the company’s training documents to the system and integrated its internal training processes with VR technology. Every time the employees put on the glasses, they find themselves in a classroom and can see all the course notes. According to the studies, the addition of visuals to the education process besides reading and listening makes a significant contribution to the ‘deep learning’ technique. It increases the efficiency of training and saves on time.
The target of wearable technology applications in aviation was set for employees who constantly work in the same position in the manufacturing process. The spring-loaded mechanical skeleton-like structure called exoskeleton is designed to eliminate the muscular and joint problems of the workers and provide them with better and more efficient working conditions.
Airplane parts to be produced from Algae
The most crucial factor for a technological breakthrough in the aviation industry is a revolutionizing difference in material quality. The introduction of carbon fiber-based composite materials into aerospace technology, and especially the high utilization rates on the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 models, has started a new era for the aviation industry.
Airbus is now planning to use seaweed (algae) for the manufacturing of structural components in aircraft. The company will use the fibers extracted from seaweed, that can reduce the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere in a sustainable manner, to produce light and strong material for the manufacturing process of aircraft parts.
The same goal also applies to artificial spider silk. If large volumes of spider silk can be produced in a sustainable way, Airbus plans take advantage of this thin, ultra-light material with outstanding durability to produce aircraft parts.
Flexible wing tips
Airbus presented a projection of the future aircraft wings with a flexible-tip technology demonstrator called Albatross One. The wing tips of the design flex down during the flight to reduce the effects of turbulence and stress on the structure and wings of the aircraft.
Unlike Boeing’s latest airplane model 777X, the Albatross One has downward folding wings. As the air flows over the wings when the aircraft accelerates, the downward curved parts at the tips of the wings bend upwards due to the increased lift and take the shape of the winglets on the existing airplanes with the same effects. They also help with the gust alleviation.
Although the system is not perfect yet in terms of safety and functionality, Airbus believes the future of wing design, which means increased comfort for passengers and fuel savings for airlines, is very bright. Recent tests with the scale model show promising results regarding the possibility to find aerodynamically optimal wing positions during the flight.
Airbus is ambitious to implement the idea of a connected cabin. The Skywise platform aims to optimize all the movement inside the aircraft and meet the needs of the passengers in a shorter time through the data collected from the volumetric sensors placed in every corner of the aircraft, especially the seats, overhead bins, galley, and toilet. Scheduled to be integrated into a real airplane in 2021, the integrated cabin system provides the cabin crew with necessary information such as whether you are wearing a seat belt or not. The system also shows the overhead bin density to crew members through their multi-functional screens. Moreover, the system lets you check the status and location of your food and drinks in seconds. For those concerned about privacy, Airbus clearly states that passenger information will not be stored or used on this system.
Another highlight of the Innovation Days was the lower deck module, which was also awarded in the Cabin Concept Category at the Crystal Cabin Awards this year. The modular design, which can turn the cargo compartment of the wide-body aircraft such as the A330 and A350 into a resting area for the passengers with an additional ventilation support unit, attracted a great deal of attention at the fair. Accessible through the stairs, the passengers are expected to rest in this windowless section during long journeys.
The award-winning cabin concept is believed to be influenced Qantas’ choice for the Sunrise project between the Airbus A350 and Boeing 777X in favor of the A350.
Electric Planes Are Coming!
Aircraft are roughly 80% more fuel efficient per passenger kilometer than they were 50 years ago. However, with air traffic growth estimated to more than double over the next 20 years, reducing aviation’s impact on the environment remains the aim of the industry.
To overcome this challenge, Airbus has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with SAS Scandinavian Airlines for hybrid and electric aircraft eco-system and infrastructure requirements research. Collaboration will start in June 2019 and will continue until the end of 2020. Airbus and SAS Scandinavian Airlines have committed to achieving carbon-neutral growth for the aviation industry as a whole from 2020 onwards, cutting aviation net emissions by 50% by 2050 (compared to 2005).
The collaboration also includes a plan to involve a renewable energy supplier to ensure genuine zero CO2 emissions operations are assessed. This multidisciplinary approach—from energy to infrastructure—aims to address the entire aircraft operations ecosystem in order to better support the aviation industry’s transition to sustainable energy.
This agreement further strengthens Airbus’ position in a field where it is already investing in and focusing its research efforts on developing hybrid-electric and electric propulsion technologies that promise significant environmental benefits. Airbus has already started to build a portfolio of technology demonstrators and is currently testing innovative hybrid propulsion systems, subsystems and components in order to address long-term efficiency goals for building and operating electric aircraft.
Airbus, Rolls-Royce, and Siemens also work together in another project called the E-Fan X, which is expected to contribute significantly in transitioning to electric aircraft. In the project, one of the turbofan engines on the BAe 146 regional airplane was replaced with a 2 MW electric motor to develop a hybrid passenger aircraft. Within the scope of the project, the aircraft is expected to make its first flight in 2020, and all the engines of the aircraft are planned to be replaced with electric motors in the long run.
AirRace E, the world’s first electric airplane race to be held for the first time in 2020 with the support of Airbus and Formula Air Race Association, is believed to be an important step in raising awareness about electric airplanes.
Flying Taxis are Inevitable!
During the event, Airbus also presented its solutions for urban environments, and the company gave wide coverage to its projects that aim to find solutions to congested traffic in growing and crowded cities. In the panels, Airbus officials stated that the flying taxis would become an indispensable part of our lives in 2030 and provided information on the current status of the City Airbus VTOL (Vertical Take-off and Landing) aircraft project. The ongoing studies on the autonomous aircraft Valhalla was also shared with the participants. We are moving towards an era where the Jetsons will become a reality, and Airbus seems to be one of the pioneers of this journey