In support of industry efforts to achieve sustainable growth in aviation, and meet the short-term goal of improving fuel efficiency by 1.5% every year until 2020, Airbus is championing the "perfect flight". Andrea Debbané, Airbus vice president of environmental affairs, explains.
What is the "perfect flight"??xml:namespace>
When you talk about massive reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, people often react as if you're describing far reaching breakthrough technologies. In order to meet our challenging long-term 2050 objectives, these will certainly be required, but to meet our short-term goals, the "perfect flight" is already possible. The perfect flight requires the most modern aircraft, flying the most direct route, utilising optimised navigation and operational procedures and using sustainable alternative fuels. In the past we've successfully deployed individual aircraft technology, air traffic management (ATM) and alternative fuels demonstration flights. Now all these eco-efficient technologies and procedures are combined in one commercial flight and demonstrate further emissions reductions, shrinking the environmental footprint of a flight to the minimum.
How is that achieved?
Through the combination of existing best practices: operating the most eco-efficient aircraft with state-of-the-art technologies; implementing streamlined ATM helps to reduce fuel burn, emissions and noise, for example through more direct routings and continuous descent approach (CDA); deploying optimised ground operations, such as single-engine taxi and washing techniques, makes a difference too, while 50% biofuel blends are already approved for commercial flights. These best practices also extend to weight-saving measures in the cabin using lighter materials for seats, carpets, trolleys or even cups and trays. Most of these improvements are already available and when you combine them, the impact is cumulative - it keeps growing.
How effective is this approach?
On 18 June this year, we performed North America's first perfect flight over international borders with Air ?xml:namespace>Canada. The revenue flight from Toronto, Canada to Mexico City demonstrated a reduction of CO2 emissions by more than 40% compared with a regular flight. The flight combined best operational and environmental practices available today: operation of the most eco-efficient aircraft family in its market segment, with the use of a 50% sustainable biofuel blend made from used cooking oil. In addition, in agreement with the ATM authorities, the A319 flew the most direct route, using the most efficient vertical flight profile and applying a CDA into Mexico City to save fuel and limit noise. Finally, we combined several eco-efficient operational procedures such as single engine-taxiing, external aircraft cleaning for improved aerodynamics, lightweight cabin equipment and a neatly tailored flight plan. The Air Canada flight came after last year's first perfect flight with Air France, from Toulouse to Paris. The Air France flight resulted in a reduction in fuel burn and emissions in the region of 50%.
So how close are we to perfect flights becoming the industry standard?
There are three crucial areas affecting that. Firstly, government policy needs to create the right framework and incentives. If you take a flight from Toulouse to Paris, you fly further than you need to, usually north and then east rather than in a straight line. This isn't efficient but the requirement to avoid restricted airspace means that airlines are obliged to follow less direct routes. In the same way, incentives aimed at developing sustainable alternative fuels are mostly directed towards fuel for road transport rather than aviation-quality kerosene. Next, there is a question of infrastructure. The best equipped aircraft and airlines in the world are still dependent on airports and a fuel industry that isn't necessarily as advanced. Biofuels provide a good example. There have been 1,200 commercial biofuel flights on Airbus aircraft in the last year but, if every flight capable of using a 50% biofuel mix tried to do it, there wouldn't be enough fuel to go around. We're involved in nurturing biofuel value chains to encourage production but, with more support, the pace of change could be accelerated. Finally, investment is a big issue. The A320neo will reduce emissions by 15%; the A350 XWB and A380 are also eco-efficient and equipped to make the most of optimised trajectory and ATM technology. But without investments in this ATM infrastructure from governments and stakeholders, the growth of the perfect flight will be slow. To make this flight a commercial reality and to go beyond today's limitations, proper resources are needed.
Why is Airbus involved in these perfect flights?
We intend to demonstrate that CO2 emissions can be significantly reduced if existing technology is used as effectively as possible. By proving that to governments and aviation industry stakeholders, we can help to shift thinking towards finding solutions in the areas of policy, infrastructure and investment. Without them our eco-efficient products won't do all the good they could. Also, with the experience we have in each of the pillars of perfect flights (alternative fuels, aircraft technology, ATM and operations) we would like to act as a centre of excellence, helping and supporting our customers to make the perfect flight a day-to-day commercial reality.