Europe’s largest ever aeronautical research programme, Clean Sky, was the subject for the Royal Aeronautical Society’s (RAS) annual Handley Page lecture last week. Dr Gareth Williams, Vice President for Research and Technology in Business Development and Partnerships for Airbus addressed engineers, students and industry figures on the programme.
Dr Williams’ aim was to unpick the jargons and acronyms around the ambitious research programme, which hopes to cut CO2 emissions 50 per cent, NOx emissions 80 per cent and noise perception 50 per cent across the European aviation industry by 2020.
A European Commission-supported initiative, Clean Sky has brought together 12 major aviation firms to develop new systems and aerodynamic techniques. Companies involved include Airbus, Thales, Rolls-Royce and Dassault Aviation. Clean Sky is not lead by a single company, said Dr Williams. There are over 300 companies involved in the programme at various levels – many are small and medium sized businesses, he added.
Clean Sky is a €1.6bn ($2.1bn) project with finance split in half between the EC and industry. EC support will be extended through Clean Sky II, which will be worth €3.6bn ($4.9bn).
“Every 15 years the aviation market doubles,” said Dr Williams. “There are not that many markets showing that rate of growth into the foreseeable future,” he added. This means another 20,000 narrowbody aircraft will be delivered over the next 20 years.
“The worst possible case is that we double the volume of air traffic and we double the pollution,” said Dr Williams. Technological improvements and efficiency are important to not only contain emissions, but also to help airlines secure profits from ever-tightening margins. Profits and environmental concerns push in the same direction, he added.
The key targets for the industry are set through the Advisory Council for Aviation Research and Innovation in Europe (ACARE), said Dr Williams. “About 10% of the targets could be met through better air traffic management,” he said. The Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research (SESAR) programme will play an important role in optimising traffic patterns, he added.
The remaining reductions must come from technological improvements. Clean Sky’s priority is to develop usable technologies not just academic or theoretical models. The flagship for the Smart Fixed-Wing Aircraft research programme is called the Breakthrough Laminar Demonstrator Aircraft in Europe (BLADE), which uses an A340-300 with the outer wing box removed and replaced by a new design. The goal is to achieve a laminar flow wing.
The challenge is not so much to design and build a laminar flow wing, but to maintain wing performance, said Dr Williams. The research programme requires innovative techniques to measure laminar flow on the wings without disruption. Open rotor engines are another technology under development in the Clean Sky programme. While open rotors could offer efficiency savings of up to 15% there is a trade-off in noise pollutions levels, said Dr Williams. Aircraft utilising technologies will probably not reach the market until at least 2030, but it was crucial to take practical steps now if these technologies are to mature, he added.