Will the next-generation single-aisle aircraft be made of plastic or metal? No-one has given this more thought than GKN director of technology Rich Oldfield.

Speaking to Flightglobal at Paris, Oldfield said that while metallic - aluminium - or composite options each offer advantages, a critical consideration will be confidence in the ability to introduce new technology for a new aircraft at the 40s-per-month build rates currently being run by Airbus and Boeing.

Carbon fibre can provide a large weight advantage in big twin-aisle long-haul machines, but in smaller aircraft the difference between carbon fibre and aluminium is much less.

 Rich Oldfield
 Rich Oldfield
Billypix ©

Oldfield said that development of aluminium alloys and construction techniques is continuing - including at GKN, which has also invested millions in composites, including on mass production techniques.

At the moment, airframers are "a bit half way" in introducing composite structures, so if a new aircraft launches into development relatively soon it could tip preferences towards a metallic structure, said Oldfield. Given more time to optimise composite structures, there could be "another dimension" in weight reduction achieved.

Carbon offers huge benefits in corrosion and fatigue resistance, Oldfield added, but only if the aircraft is largely composite. A part-and-part solution would still require a metal-era inspection and maintenance regime.

Other factors working in favour of aluminium are airlines' concerns about composites' susceptibility to damage during ground handling and the "industrial architecture" needed to support a composite programme, said Oldfield.

At Farnborough next year there may be far more clarity on the issue, he added.

Source: Flight Daily News