With demand for air transport at an all-time high and still growing, commercial airlines are under mounting pressure to deliver more seats for travellers. Many industry experts believe that small improvements are no longer an option, and a major technological step-change is required to deliver the needed flight services.
The goal of the EU-funded HIKARI project is to bring the aviation industry one giant leap closer to high-speed air transport. For the first time, Europe and Japan are linking hands with the aim of bringing together existing research on high-speed transport and providing the best overview of the way forward.
The team includes some of Europe and Japan’s top aeronautics research groups and engineering firms. European Commission officials say the fact that European and Japanese researchers are working together in a coordinated EU project is a milestone in itself.
Together, they will establish and promote comprehensive roadmaps for technology development and demonstration strategies for future high-speed aviation.
“There have been many research initiatives aimed at developing better and faster modes of air transport, but the day when passengers will travel routinely on board a very high-speed airplane still appears to be a long way off,” says the project coordinator Emmanuel Blanvillain from EADS Innovation Works, France.
“We believe HIKARI’s main characteristic, international cooperation, is the key to implementing the high-speed air transport system of the future, when flying from Paris to Tokyo in less than three hours will be an everyday occurrence.”
HIKARI will evaluate a large number of past and current research initiatives, including other EU-funded projects. The goal is to bring together separate lines of study and expertise. Along with considering passenger safety and ticket prices, the team will tackle four primary questions:
- Is it worth the effort? – researchers will analyse the latest economic figures on high-speed air transport, identify the drivers for commercial development and look at the required factors for profitability and success.
- Can it be ‘green’? – they will examine the impact of high-speed air transport emissions on the atmosphere and climate, while also taking into account production and distribution issues related to fuel type.
- Do we have the power? – a key focus will be on developing a complete thermal and energy management system, different to what we currently use. Hence, contemporary systems relying on electrical power generated by the rotating parts of engines will be compared with future systems that will include options with potential use of high-speed engines without any large rotating parts.
- Aircraft, rocket or both? – researchers will consider concepts involving a single engine as well as combinations of different engine types, along with their fuel systems. This will include an assessment of noise at take-off.
“Should high-speed air transport become a reality in the future, the global transport landscape will be totally different from what we know today,” says Michael Papadopoulos, leader of the HIKARI dissemination activities. “Shorter journey times will make it possible to increase passenger capacity, to bring more flights to more places, and new trade and investment links could be established with countries in geographically distant regions.”
And, he adds, HIKARI’s results could have an impact in other sectors, such as space-related projects, including space tourism.