Airbus looking to the future

2013 has been an interesting year. For our military I suspect that it will be looked back upon as the year that the reality of doing more with even less came home to roost, triggering an adverse affect on morale, and heralded the omens of things to come with SDSR 2015 waiting in the wings to potentially reduce budgets even further.

Airbus Electric Taxiing        

Yesterday was all about fudging for at least another two years future airport capacity development in the UK – an issue that sparks as much emotion in those that worry about noise and air pollution as it does with those of us that seek to ensure Britain does not lose out in the international competitive stakes because it failed to invest in aviation and particularly airport development. Today is about really interesting news that Airbus has signed an MOU (Memorandum Of Understanding) with EGTS International, a joint venture between Safran and Honeywell Aerospace to further develop and evaluate an autonomous electric pushback and taxiing solution for the A320 aircraft family. The agreement marks the selection of the EGTS Electric Green Taxiing System or what Airbus itself calls eTaxi and is designed as an option that allows an aircraft to push back from the gate without use of a tug, to taxi out to the main take-off runway and also, when landing to do the same in reverse as the aircraft taxi’s to the gate without using the main engines.

Already demonstrated on an A320 aircraft at this years’ Paris Airshow, eTaxi uses the aircraft’s own Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) to power electric motors fitted to the main landing gear wheels. Use of the system projects an overall 4% fuel and CO2 emission reduction on each aircraft journey but whilst the aircraft is on the ground from push back, through taxiing and take-off when the main engines are started carbon and nitrous oxide emissions could be cut by one half. There would according to the developers also be a two minute time saving on pushback. Whilst EGTS is not alone in this market its system is, as far as I know, the only one so far that is designed and built into the aircraft. German airline Lufthansa has also conducted trials of an EGTS system on a Boeing 747 aircraft but at present the assumption is that the system will work best on narrow bodied aircraft. I am delighted to read of this great new development and joint venture with Airbus.

Technology developments that will affect how we live, work and move in the future come in many varied forms. Environmental aspects of technology development are crucial to our future and to that of the environment we live in and there can be no doubt that the world’s two largest aircraft manufacturers take these matters very seriously. The effort to further reduce pollution in aircraft is enormous and one only has to look at the variety of different aircraft fuel alternatives currently under evaluation to know how seriously Airbus and Boeing take their responsibilities. And it is good to know that it is not just in the air but on the ground too that those involved across the wider aviation industry recognise the need to ensure fuel is not wasted by endless taxiing requirements.

Air transportation may account for only around 4% of air pollution but no-one can accuse the industry of not taking environmental issues seriously. Airlines, airports and air traffic control system operators also have to play their part and, on the latter, it is good to see the UK’s NATS taking a lead. Much has been achieved but there is still much left to do. Technology developments such as EGTS are hugely important. Aircraft today may use as much as 40% less fuel per aircraft than those in airline fleets twenty years ago but that figure will be further reduced over time. But while fuel burn and environmental pollution is reducing one also notes that numbers of aircraft flying worldwide are increasing. Environmental problems will not be solved overnight, this year or next, nor can international agreement on the subject be anticipated. Taxation is not the answer to the problem but technology development certainly is. It is always pleasing for me to see new environmental technology emerge whether it is transport related or anything else. Note that similar efforts are going on to reduce the environmental impact on road transport and the reader may wish to note here that BAE Systems at Rochester has been responsible for the development of a highly successful electric propulsion system for buses known as HybriDrive and that is today being used to power a great many buses around the world. In this case the system powers the bus completely with power from an on-board generator being either stored in the batteries or drawn to run the electric traction motor and drive train.

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785

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