Liebherr to test electric-powered air pack for next-generation narrowbody

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Liebherr will soon use a demonstration aircraft to test a power-generation system capable of replacing bleed-air-driven systems in the air-conditioning units of narrowbodies.

If successful, the demonstration could open the door to expanding application of the electrically powered aircraft systems pioneered on widebodies such as the Boeing 787.

The demonstration is only the first step in a long development process, but is aimed at giving aircraft manufacturers a new option when the next generation of aircraft in the 150-seat class are conceived, says Nicholas Bonleux, managing director and chief sales officer at Liebherr.

The 787 is the first and still the only airliner in production or development to use electric generators instead of engine bleed air to pressurise the cabin, de-ice the wings and provide air conditioning. But the weight of the equipment needed to generate 1.4MW of electricity on the 787 has made the technology uneconomical in smaller aircraft.

Liebherr currently builds 50kW power generators for large commercial aircraft, but that represents only half the power demand for a 150-seater, Bonleux says.

So Liebherr is now developing a 100kW prototype system which will be tested on a demonstrator aircraft in the near future, he says.

The demonstration is part of a Liebherr strategy to use technology development as a basis for revenue growth. The family-owned company founded by Hans Liebherr in 1949 still prefers to invest internally, rather than grow by acquisition.

The company also cites its family-owned status as the reason why it can invest more than 20% of revenue in research and development.