What will Air Traffic Management (ATM) look like in the year 2050? Airbus has given shape to a vision of sustainable aviation which looks beyond aircraft design and focuses on leaner operations, both in the air and on the ground. Here are five innovations that could help meet industry growth in an eco-efficient way.
Aircraft launched through assisted take-offs using renewably powered, propelled acceleration, allowing steeper climb from airports to minimise noise and reach efficient cruise altitudes quicker. As space becomes a premium and mega-cities become a reality, this approach could also minimise land use, as shorter runways could be utilised.
Highly intelligent aircraft would be able to ‘self-organise’ and select the most efficient and environmentally friendly routes (‘free flight’), making optimum use of prevailing weather and atmospheric conditions. High- frequency routes would also allow aircraft to benefit from flying in formation like birds during cruise, bringing efficiency improvements due to drag reduction and lower energy use.
Aircraft allowed to take a free-glide approach into airports reduce emissions during the overall descent and reduce noise during the steeper approach as there is no need for engine thrust or air braking. Such an approach would also allow the aircraft to reach landing speed earlier, making shorter landing distances possible (less runway needed).
On landing, aircraft engines could be switched off sooner, runways cleared faster and ground handling emissions could be cut. Technology could optimise an aircraft’s landing position with enough accuracy for an autonomous renewably powered taxiing carriage to be ready, so aircraft could be transported away from runways quicker, which would optimise terminal space, and remove runway and gate limitations.
The use of sustainable biofuels and other potential alternative energy sources (such as electricity, hydrogen, solar, etc) will be necessary to secure supply and further reduce aviation’s environmental footprint in the long term. This will allow the extensive introduction of regionally sourced renewable energy close to airports, feeding both aircraft and infrastructure requirements sustainably.