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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Aeronautics projects > Preparing for the global challenges of 2020
Graphic element Preparing for the global challenges of 2020

Hamburg - one of the major centres of the Airbus industrial complex - was the host of Aeronautics Days 2001, from 29 to 31 January. This red-letter event was the occasion to outline a new ambitious strategy within the European Research Area and to chart the future of European aeronautics. The objective over the next two decades is to equip the European Union with a global air transport system able to meet the challenges of the projected growth in the world market while strengthening the remarkable position currently enjoyed by European aeronautics. We summarise the issues at stake in this priority European field.

European aviation is experiencing a golden age which shows no sign of slowing. The continuous growth in world air transport - passengers and freight - experienced since the 1960s is set to continue at a rate of at least 5% a year over the next two decades. The latest Airbus forecasts indicate that this will mean a demand for 7600 new aircraft every decade - or a market estimated at 1300 billion euros by 2019. As a vital sector in the European - and American - industrial dynamic, aircraft manufacture must therefore continue to innovate if it is to win these large markets.

Consensus among the players
The technological race which will underlie the competition looks like being intense and increasingly demanding. The traditional battle between the commercial competitiveness of aircraft - their value for money - is today more relevant than ever. But at the same time, continuous market growth is bringing into play an unremitting stream of new parameters for the future of European and global aviation.

Aircraft manufacturers are thus perfectly aware of the major problem of the impact of increased traffic on the global environment. There is also a broad consensus that future improvements in aircraft performance must go hand-in-hand with a major drive for innovation in the air transport system as a whole. European research must meet the urgent need for progress in air traffic management and control (ATM and ATC), airport infrastructures, airline information systems, etc. This new global approach covering the whole of the aviation sector was very much on the agenda at Aeronautics Days 2001.

The culmination of a development
The launching pad for a European aeronautics research area over the next two decades, the Aeronautics Days are the result of a process brought to fruition over a number of years by the efforts of the Commission in association with all the air transport players. It was the creation of an Aeronautics Task Force in 1995 that triggered the initial initiatives aimed at increasing the coordination of European research projects in the field of aircraft manufacture (aircraft, equipment and engine manufacturers) and within the global management of the air transport system (ATM, ATC, ground infrastructures).

The impetus created by the Task Force led to the creation under the current Fifth Framework Programme (1999-2002) of the major key action dedicated to New perspectives for aeronautics. The research strategy focuses on two priorities of relevance to the whole issue of air transport: the development of technologies seen as critical in the medium or long term, and the implementation of the new concept of major technological platforms aimed at validating innovations before they reach the market.

This key action has a budget of 700 million euros for a four-year period - nearly three times the resources devoted to European aeronautics research between 1995 and 1998.

The European aviation area
Community funding - which now represents 30% of the public research funds allocated to the sector in the European Union - has thus become vital to the future of the aviation sector. As such it is an excellent example of the European Research Area in practice, a political objective already supported by all the manufacturers concerned.

In April 2000, their representatives within the External Advisory Group, which is charged with advising the Commission on implementing research under the present key action, published the Aeronautics for Europe memorandum which lays the foundations for a new vision of the European system up to 2020. Following this `charter' in favour of a new industrial partnership under EU auspices, last October Commissioner Philippe Busquin charged a group of 14 personalities from Europe's air transport sector with acting on the priorities to achieve tangible results within this time-frame.

The results of this strategic consultation was on the agenda at the Hamburg Aeronautics Days.

The main objectives of the Aeronautics key action

The development of new generations of aircraft

• 35% reduction in production costs
• 20% reduction in development time

Gains in aircraft efficiency

• -20% reduction in fuel consumption
• Increased reliability

Respect for the environment

• 10 dB reduction in sound level
• 20% reduction in CO2 emissions
• 80% reduction in NOx

Operational capacity and safety

• Optimisation of airspace use
• 25% reduction in maintenance costs
• Reduced rate of accidents

Three questions for Marc Vincendon
       (Research director Airbus - Toulouse)

In what ways is the European Union taking into account the expectations of Airbus researchers?

Increased research coordination in all the vital areas of aeronautics development is genuinely seen as a vital necessity by all the players in the European sector. As early as 1997, the sector's industrialists - the aircraft, equipment, and engine manufacturers - took stock of their strategic needs under EIAP (European Integrated Aeronautics Programme) and our expectations were generally taken into account in the architecture of the Aeronautics key action under the Fifth Framework Programme, which provided greatly increased resources. The programme's architecture - with research projects in critical areas on the one hand, and major technological platforms on the other - effectively contributes to the objectives of the European industry.

How does this added value translate in the field?

Airbus is by nature a completely trans-European company and we see the European research programmes as being of very significant value. The EU initiatives provide an ideal support framework, making it possible to involve aircraft manufacturers and suppliers in all the Member States. This produces a vertical integration of the equipment manufacturers' chain, where there are many SMEs which can consequently also be involved in research. For example, I coordinate the TANGO(Technology Application to Near-Term Business Goals and Objectives of the Aerospace Industry) technological platform - 34 participants in 12 European countries - which coordinates the validation of European technologies aimed at reducing the weight and manufacturing costs of aircraft cell structures. The ambitious objective of this vast operation is to achieve about a 20% reduction in both.

What does a group such as yours see as being the most pressing research priorities?

Safety, respect for the environment, and passenger comfort must all be improved. And of course aircraft design, construction and operating costs must be reduced. A number of projects and platforms in which we or our associates are involved are focusing on these aspects. But more radical responses to these essential concerns to the aircraft manufacturer can be found by studying the advanced configurations that will define the aviation of the future. These studies must be given every encouragement. All these priorities are fully integrated in our approaches.

  Aviation and the environment

Even if increasingly important progress has been made in limiting emissions, the impact of aviation on the environment is a cause of concern as it takes place in a particularly sensitive part of the Earth's ecosystem.

Aviation has two Achilles heels: noise and air pollution. Despite the enormous progress in reducing these major nuisances, the prospect of sustained growth in global air transport presents aeronautics research with a major environmental challenge.

The aeronautics industry has not rested on its laurels where the environment is concerned. The noise level of an Airbus 320 is around 20 dB less than that of a Caravelle or Boeing 727 40 years ago. And when it comes to aviation fuel consumption - and thus the volume of greenhouse gas emissions - the reduction is around 70%.

'Cleanliness' is paramount
Although the modern aircraft is increasingly `clean', the life of an aircraft - between 20 and 25 years on average - nevertheless means that it takes time before the technological advances which can reduce pollution are able to produce their effect. Another problem is the rapid growth in air traffic. In the past, complaints from people living close to airports were limited, and far and few between - rather like the aircraft themselves. Today the daily - and often nocturnal - comings and goings at large and medium-sized airports pose, and will increasingly pose, many problems, with an environmental impact (noise and air pollution in residential areas) which borders on the intolerable. Almost everywhere there is a growing demand for regulating action and the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) is drawing up stricter standards.

The other concern is for areas far from human habitation, in the cold expanses of the upper atmosphere where the planet's global ecosystem is engaged in a precarious balancing act in the face of the action of solar radiation. Unlike ground-based sources of pollution, aircraft, despite the strenuous efforts to limit their emissions, are in part active in a particularly sensitive region of the Earth's environment. To date, little account has been taken of the impact of air traffic on these high-altitude chemical processes, but the increased research efforts of recent years have significantly improved our understanding of the effect of aircraft emissions on the atmosphere.

Noise reduction requires increasingly complex innovation involving all an aircraft's structures - not just the engines, but also the wings, high lift devices, fuselage and landing gear.

The climatologists' concern
Although the contribution of aviation to the production of CO2, the principal greenhouse gas, remains moderate (around 12% of the total pollution attributed to the transport sector), the forecast increase in traffic is changing the picture. Present generations of aircraft engines are also a source of two other types of emission of particular concern: oxides of nitrogen (NOX) and water vapour.

In a report dated October 1999, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) - the global organisation whose role is to assess the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant for understanding the risk of human-induced climate change - estimated that NOx emissions cause a significant increase in ozone formation at the boundary between the troposphere and stratosphere, the altitude at which this gas causes a greenhouse effect. What is more, in the air corridors the increasing number of contrails (familiar white streaks caused by the emission of water vapour into a very cold atmosphere) could be contributing to the formation of additional high-altitude cirrus clouds, although the mechanisms for this are not well understood. About 30% of the earth's surface is covered with cirrus clouds and any increase will tend to add to global warming.


Apart from the unflagging commitment to reducing emissions at source, i.e. in the engines, the only way to combat air pollution caused by air traffic effectively - and in particular to legislate on the subject - is by acquiring an in-depth knowledge of its real impact on the environment. Thus, in 1993, at the initiative of Airbus, four airlines (Air France, Sabena, Austrian Airlines and Lufthansa) agreed to equip five Airbus A340s operating on scheduled flights with sophisticated equipment to measure ozone and water vapour concentrations. Known as Mozaic, this project, funded by the EU on a cost sharing basis, gathered data from some 95 000 flying hours on routes virtually worldwide, providing essential material for assessing the composition of the air on air traffic routes. The evaluation itself was carried out by the Aeronet (Identification of Aircraft Emissions for Reduction Technologies) network, a research platform launched in 1997 involving all the scientific players in the aeronautics field - from industry to air traffic officials, and including specialists in measurement, database management and development of models.

X-Noise: chasing the noise
The real progress made in combating noise is largely thanks to the efforts of the engine manufacturers. European research is aimed at an integrated approach involving all parts of the aircraft. `As we make improvements reducing the overall noise level, further reduction requires increasingly complex innovations involving all the aircraft's structures. It's not just the engines but also aerodynamic noise from the wings, high lift devices, fuselage and landing gear,' stresses Per Kruppa, who coordinates the Noise projects at the Research DG.

It was to embrace all these aspects that, in 1998, the EU's X-Noise initiative was launched. X-Noise is a cluster of projects concerning all aspects of aircraft noise and with multiple objectives. It involves research centres, university laboratories and industry - 32 partners in all - and has a budget close to 30 million euros (60% funded by the EU, 40% by industry). Its stated aim is a global reduction of 8 dB. Research themes include the propagation of noise from jet turbines (the Ducat and Resound projects), the integration of the nacelles supporting the engines in the aircraft structure (Ranntac) and the reduction of noise produced by the aircraft structures (wings and landing-gear). In addition, the Sourdine project is not only bringing technical improvements to aircraft but is also looking at how to optimise landing and take-off procedures to make them less noisy for people around airports.

Under the current key action, the technological validation platform known as Low external noise aircraft is building on the work of X-Noise - and with increased resources at its disposal.

100 million euros for the clean engine
Launched in March 2000, the Efficient and Environmentally Friendly Aircraft Engine (EEFAE) technological platform is an ambitious action with a substantial budget (100 million euros) aimed at meeting the challenge of emissions reduction. Its aim is to validate, and integrate into engine design and development, a bundle of innovative, emission-reducing technologies (in terms of engine aero-thermodynamics, combustion, cooling, materials and manufacturing processes) which have already been studied and developed under European or national research programmes. Fifteen industrial partners, three research centres, two universities and several SMEs in 10 countries are involved in the EEFAE's two distinct research concepts. `These two concepts have quite different missions. One, the Affordable Near Term Low Emissions Engine (ANTLE), conducted by Rolls-Royce, is aimed at introducing the best technologies possible for reducing polluting emissions in the next generation of engines,' explains Reiner Dunker, a scientific officer at the Commission. 'The other concept, the Component vaLidation for Environmentally-friendly Aero-eNgine (CLEAN), conducted by engine manufacturers SNECMA and MTU, is endeavouring to develop a new engine cycle using an intercooler and a heat exchanger with a view to drastically reducing CO2 and NOx emissions.

  Europe under a single sky

Air traffic congestion - more than one in five flights has an average delay of 15 minutes - must be resolved by means of a radical technological reform integrating air traffic flow management at airports and in the sky.

Whereas Europe's market may now be `single', its sky still has a long way to go. The prospect of growing congestion on air routes and at airports - with the underlying threat to safety - is making it essential to develop the technology and regulations to provide an efficient and reliable system, offering increased capacity and incorporating all aspects of air traffic management. This is a top priority at the heart of Europe's aeronautics research.

The increase in air traffic has been dramatic. At the end of 2000 the total number of aircraft movements (take-offs and landings) is 18% up on 1997. But according to AEA (Association of European Airlines) statistics, 22% of flights recorded delays of more than 15 minutes in 1998 (With a record 31% in 1999, partly explained by the air space disturbances caused by military intervention in the former Yugoslavia) compared to 13% in 1993. Apart from the indirect cost to passengers, these delays are estimated to cost the airlines the equivalent of 10 billion euros a year in terms of less efficient use of equipment and personnel, fuel wastage and passenger compensation.

Traffic jams in the sky
`There are a variety of reasons for these delays,' explains Patrick Bernard, a scientific officer at the Energy and Transport DG. `Half of them can be attributed to organisational problems at increasingly congested airports, and to the internal problems of the airlines. But it is estimated that at least 50% of delays are caused by increasingly critical problems with air traffic control, involving aircraft in the air and on the ground.'

The challenge facing the development of what the experts refer to as the EATMS (European Air Traffic Management System) is a measure of the complexity of the European sky, a jig-saw of national air spaces coordinated by 68 national and local control centres. The ATM 2000+ Strategy plan, managed by the trans-European air traffic control body Eurocontrol, is the response to this challenge.

More research for increased safety
The strategy involves a three-stage implementation process, culminating in 2015 in the Single European Sky. It also involves a major research effort on new technological systems able to manage constantly growing air traffic and progressively integrate it into a pan-European control system. This is a highly sensitive field in which every innovation must be validated to ensure maximum reliability in terms of safety.

`Safety,' stresses Alain Joselzon, a scientific officer at the Research DG, `is certainly a constant and ever present concern running vertically and horizontally through the whole aeronautics sector. It culminates, in particular, in air traffic control, the point at which all the factors relating to man, machine and the external environment permanently intersect.'

Almost two-thirds of current European aeronautics research projects are looking at various aspects of ATM, including ground traffic flow management. They address, for example, the transmission and processing of increasingly large volumes of data enabling control centres and towers to model traffic flows in the air or in the environment of airports, new tools for aircraft positioning, new avionics instruments and man-machine interfaces installed in the cockpits. Much of the research is also linked to validating the safety of these new technologies, their combined use and their dissemination.

The `development of critical technologies' under the present Aeronautics key action is actively supporting research on EATMS, encompassing all aspects linked to accident prevention and the reliability - at minimum cost - of aircraft maintenance operations. A specific technological platform is also aimed at validating advanced on-board navigation technologies and their integration in the global architecture of the future EATMS on which Eurocontrol is working.

Preparing for the Global Challenge of 2020
Three questions for the Research director of Airbus
Aviation and the environement
Europe under a single sky
European Aeronautics: A vision for 2020
Press release of 29-01-2001: Commissioner Busquin and European aeronautics sector present their ‘2020 Vision’
Press release of 15-01-2001: Aeronautics Days to reveal 2020 vision

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