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New milestone for ‘Clean Sky’

The European Commission along with industry experts are determined to overhaul the entire airport transport industry, with new technologies to reduce CO2 by 50%. 'Clean Sky', the EU initiative that will make it all happen, is now officially autonomous. Its Executive Director, Eric Dautriat, discusses the issues.

Eric Dautriat © Peter Gutierrez
Eric Dautriat
© Peter Gutierrez

At this very moment, high in our skies, thousands of passenger and cargo airplanes are emitting massive amounts of CO 2. These gases account for around 3% of global CO 2 emissions. What's more, according to the STERN Review report, emissions from the aviation industry will triple by 2050 as the demand for air transport increases.

The Clean Sky Joint Technology Initiative, with the participation of eighty-six organisations from sixteen countries, is one of the largest European research projects ever launched, and it is now set to develop new technologies to mitigate the CO2 impact from the airline industry.

"Clean Sky is aimed at improving the environmental footprint of aeronautics," says Clean Sky Executive Director Eric Dautriat. "Our goals derive from the Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe (ACARE) technology platform, in which all European aviation stakeholders came together to target a reduction of 50% of carbon emissions and noise, and 80% of nitrogen oxides by 2020.

"Clean Sky is the operational arm that will allow us, if not to reach these ambitious figures, to at least make some very essential steps forward. Dautriat says Clean Sky can realistically expect to deliver between 20 and 40% reduction in carbon and noise pollution, depending on the kind of aircraft.

A new approach

The Joint Technology Initiative or 'JTI' is a new instrument for long-term research under the European Union's Seventh Research Framework Programme, bringing together major stakeholders to efficiently move innovative technologies to market.

"It is a completely different scheme," says Dautriat. Clean Sky is managed by a Joint Undertaking that receives an annual budget from the Commission and allocates it to the beneficiaries, according to an implementation plan approved by is Governing Board." The Commission's role, he explains, is limited to its participation to the Governing Board, as a major 'stakeholder', and it also carries out audits of the Clean Sky Joint Undertaking, itself a beneficiary.

How will this new approach improve the way European research and development is carried out? "I'm confident that it will be more flexible," says Dautriat, "closer to the day-to-day life of a large and complex research programme, first because the JU is a small entity with short decision making processes necessary to coordinate the environmental goals and deadlines set by ACARE, but also because some financial flexibility is provided by the specific rules which have been adopted"

But, he adds, Clean Sky must also be considered, to some extent, as an experiment, a new way of performing research. "As such, we should be able to further adapt the rules and procedures in the future, after a first phase of operation."

Clean Sky has an estimated budget of €1.6 billion, shared between the European Commission and industry, research centres and universities. Launched in 2008, the public-private partnership has seven years to demonstrate and validate new fuel-efficient engines, advanced electrical systems and optimisation of flight trajectories. Improvements will be applied to a whole range of aircraft types that will combine breakthroughs in new structures and wing technologies. Once implemented commercially, the new technologies could eliminate up to 3 billion tonnes of CO 2 over the next 40 years.

"Aircraft typically have a 30-year service lifespan and new aviation design can take more than a decade to develop," Dautriat explains. "This poses several problems as new technologies need to be implemented quickly. Clean Sky is therefore proposing to conduct tests on full scale demonstrators and flight test vehicles which should reduce time to market." In-flight demonstrators could involve testing a new wing on an Airbus or a new engine in a helicopter. Clean Sky is also tasked to develop a green product life cycle that encompasses design, manufacturing, maintenance and disposal.

Europe’s largest independent research initiative

As a single overarching programme that involves the whole of Europe’s aeronautical industry, Clean Sky's scale and scope are unprecedented in Europe. Spread through 16 countries, members represent 15 research centres, 17 universities, and 54 industrial interests.

Clean Sky officially became autonomous on 16 November 2009, through a letter addressed to Dautriat from the Commission's RTD Director General. "This letter was in response to a request I sent based on a detailed assessment of the Joint Undertaking's capability to perform its duties," explains Dautriat. "My request has now been examined and accepted by the RTD services."

A respected figure in the air transport industry, having held high positions at SAFRAN, a leading aerospace, security and defence group, Executive Director Dautriat will report to a Governing Board made up of industry and Commission representatives.

"The Joint Undertaking team is currently set to sign off grant agreements that cover 60 different topics," he says. "The first calls for proposals were launched in June, closed end of August and then evaluated in September. Many of these grants will go to small and medium enterprises as well as several newcomers to EU-funded research."

Dautriat will also report directly to the Council and the Parliament on an annual basis. "Formally," he explains, "the link between the Joint Undertaking team and the Commission is limited to the Commission’s participation in the Board, and to some services that the Commission will provide through dedicated agreements." This puts non-institutional players clearly in the pilot's seat and makes Clean Sky and other JTIs a genuinely new way of working at EU level.

Greenhouse has no frontiers

Air transport represents an important sector for the EU economy, employing nearly 3 million people. Over the next twenty years, it is expected to contribute €200 billion to Europe’s annual GDP. But alongside the economic importance of the aviation industry sits the threat of environmental inaction.

Smog, acid rain and degraded water quality are caused by nitrous oxides. Gases emitted from aircraft at high altitudes have a greater green house warming affect. Not tackling climate change as a whole could potentially cost 20% or more of world GDP according to the STERN Review report.

"Climate change has no borders," says Dautriat. "The Clean Sky initiative is already seeing that their efforts are encouraging the rest of the aviation world to make greener products. It is very interesting to note that NASA, for instance, is now about to start a similar programme, with the same kind and same level of technologies as ours. It is a tribute to the European Commission and to all European stakeholders who, through the ACARE platform, have given life to this initiative."