Via the Economist's Gulliver blog, Airbus Industrie has some ideas about the future:
More flights, fewer emissions and quicker passenger journey times. Welcome to Smarter Skies, the latest installment in The Future by Airbus. For the first time, our vision of sustainable aviation in 2050 looks beyond aircraft design to how the aircraft is operated both on the ground and in the air in order to meet the expected growth in air travel in a sustainable way.
Already today, if the Air Traffic Management (ATM) system and technology on board aircraft were optimised (assuming around 30 million flights per year), Airbus research suggests that every flight in the world could on average be around 13 minutes shorter. This would save approximately 9 million tonnes of excess fuel annually, which equates to over 28 million tonnes of avoidable CO2 emissions and passenger savings 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.
Specifically, they envision:
- Eco-climb – save energy by launching aircraft using an assisted-take-off mechanism. Since planes use so much power to leave the ground, the idea is to source that power from devices on the ground, rather than have them weighing down the plane. Then you could shorten the runways and lighten the aircraft, which would reach cruising altitude faster than at present.
- Express skyways – planes travelling in formation, like a flock of birds, will use less energy. In Airbus's example, three aircraft heading east from Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco would meet over Utah and fly onwards together. Planes could also reduce the distances they have to fly if they take genuinely direct routes between A and B, rather than zig-zagging round different countries' airspace.
- Free-glide approaches and landings – with better air-traffic management planes would be able to glide smoothly into airports, as opposed to descending in stages and wasting energy.
- Ground operations – "autonomous receiving vehicles" that would get planes from runway to gate faster are among the ideas for improving operations at the airport.
- Power - biofuels and other alternative sources of energy would reduce CO2 emissions and improve the security of energy supply.
Cool stuff. And the "taxi-bot" is already here.