Commercial jetliners are responsible for nearly 12% of transportation-based global carbon dioxide pollution. This is a staggering amount that not only represents an environmental problem, but it also means that airline companies are burning a lot of jet fuel. Fuel is certainly one of the biggest costs an airline realizes, so advances in fuel economy and overall operational efficiencies will continue to be a priority in coming years. Competition among airlines has grown increasingly fierce in the midst of low prices and increased route availability, meaning that any decrease in operating cost can help position one company above the rest.
What Are The Green Functions Being Considered For Future Airliners?
Airplanes burn tremendous amounts of fuel during taxi maneuvers and during take off. One of the developing innovations that airliners may employ is an electronic taxi motor that cuts down on the requirement to use the main engines during taxiing. Currently, the main engines are throttled up and are used to move an airliner around the literal maze of runways and gate access points found at an airport. These engines are so powerful the pilot must keep his or her foot on the brakes to counteract the massive thrust. This not only uses fuel, but also places additional strain on the brakes and tires.
Several companies are currently in the final stages of development of electric motor systems that can drive one wheel on each main landing gear. These electric motors would be driven off of the APU (auxiliary power unit) on the airplane, meaning that a minimal amount of fuel would be required to charge the electric motors. This reduction in fuel consumption would represent significant savings for an airline, as well as lower total costs related to maintenance and brake and tire replacement. In fact, a seventeen-minute taxi for a 737 aircraft burns up to 330 gallons of fuel when the main engines are used. This level of fuel consumption may be reduced by 90% or more by using the electric motor system.
Another innovation that may significantly shape the future of the aircraft industry is the design of the commercial airplane itself. These designs haven’t changed much in fifty years – still maintaining the “flying cigar” fuselage design with two to four dangling turbofans on the wings. While this is a moderately efficient configuration, modern advances in avionics have allowed aircraft designers to stretch the limits of what is considered a feasible airplane structure. Aircraft engineers no longer have to contend with the limitations of mechanical pilot controls, with many modern planes being flown almost entirely by wire. This means that the airplane’s computer can compensate for the more sensitive controls inherent to airplanes with rear-mounted engines, smaller vertical stabilizers and wings, and different fuselage profiles. In the search for better economy stability is frequently compromised. This is a problem in airplanes that are flown through mechanical controls, while those with computer-supervised controls are generally able to manage the more complex inputs necessary to maintain safe flight control.
The Future Of Airplanes Looks Green!
Airplanes must contend with the laws of physics just like any other mass transportation vehicle. That said, advances in avionics, hybrid engine systems, lightweight and efficient materials, and computer-enhanced control systems help make aircraft faster, safer, more economical, and more comfortable to pilot. Competition among airlines is bound to force these new technologies into the airplane marketplace, which should result in more economical flying options and a better overall travel experience for both pilot and passenger.