Aircraft in free flight and formation along 'express skyways'

'Smarter skies' the route to sustainability

Airbus chose the futuristic surroundings of London’s ‘Gherkin’ skyscraper to launch its vision of the ‘smarter skies’ of the future.

From the Airbus perspective, “smarter skies” are first and foremost about increased sustainability of flights. To achieve that, the company has come up with several groundbreaking innovations.

To begin with, instead of just taking off, aircraft of the future will be catapulted into the sky with the help of propelled acceleration devices, powered by renewable energy sources. This would not only reduce the take-off noise and carbon emissions, but would justify shorter runways and allow the planes to reach their cruising altitudes faster.

Another possibility is formation flying, whereby the “smart” aircraft will be able to self-organise themselves into “flocks” (like birds) to travel along the most efficient routes, reducing drag and lowering energy use.

To bring down noise, the aircraft will be permitted to glide into the airports on descent with their engines idle which, among other things, would reduce landing distances and let runways be shorter. The engines will be switched off sooner when on the tarmac – with ground-handling emissions drastically cut and the aircraft itself towed away from the runway faster as a result.

Naturally, achieving all of the above would require introduction of renewable energy sources close to airports as well as the increased use of hydrogen, solar and other alternative energy sources as well as sustainable biofuels. 

“These tough environmental targets can only be met by a combination of investment in smarter aircraft design and optimising the environment in which the aircraft operates,” said Charles Champion, Airbus executive vice-president in charge of engineering, who praised the company’s engineers for constantly coming up with seemingly ‘disruptive’ ideas to assist the industry in meeting its environmental targets.

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