Durability is the goal of new airline planes coming soon

After the pandemic pause, there are big changes behind the scenes in the aviation industry. A potential successor to the 747, Boeing’s long-awaited twin-engine giant 777X will enter service in 2023, but so will a much smaller plane that promises big things.

New aircraft – coming soon

Qantas A321XLR - Airbus Document render illustration

Qantas has placed an order for 20 Airbus A321XLRs with an option to buy many more.
Photo: AIRBUS

The single-aisle A321XLR is the latest iteration of Airbus’ acclaimed A320 Family. Accommodating 18 to 220 passengers in a two-class configuration, Airbus claims a 30% improvement in fuel burn per seat for the A321XLR compared to previous-generation aircraft. This is due to more aerodynamic fins – Airbus calls them Sharklets – and improved performance from its engines, either CFM International’s LEAP-1A or Pratt & Whitney’s PurePower PW1100G-JM gear-driven turbofan.

What makes the A321XLR a game changer is its range – an incredible 8700 km. This catapults it to the top tier of commercial narrow-body aircraft. In contrast, Boeing’s 737 MAX 9 has a range of 6,570 km while the MAX10’s figure is 6,110 km. This allows the A321XLR to fly non-stop from Melbourne to Tokyo, or from Brisbane to Honolulu. In the northern hemisphere, this range would allow the Airbus to travel non-stop between London and Vancouver, Tokyo and San Francisco, Seoul and Seattle, New York and Istanbul and New Delhi and London. This is a strong selling point since the A321XLR allows airlines to operate a narrow-body aircraft on low-demand, long-haul routes where a twin-aisle aircraft might not be economical.

So far, Airbus has booked more than 450 orders from more than 20 airlines, with Air Canada, JetBlue, Wizz Air and United Airlines all in the queue. Qantas has placed an initial order for 20 A321XLRs with an option to replace its fleet of Boeing 737s and 717s. When these aircraft are phased out over the next decade, Qantas will operate an all-Airbus domestic fleet.

New aircraft – the future

Airbus unveils hydrogen designs for zero-emission flights.  Photo captions: Airbus SE ZEROe concept design.  Source: Airbus SE Design of the Airbus SE ZEROe turbofan concept.  Source: Airbus SE Design of the Airbus SE ZEROe turboprop concept.  Source: Airbus SE

Airbus’ zero-emissions goal includes design for mixed-wing aircraft. Photo: Airbus

Airbus is touting its ZEROe project as the shape of things to come if the aviation industry is to achieve its zero emissions goal. The ZEROe concept comprises three aircraft, a twin-engine narrow-body twin-jet, a twin-engine turboprop and a mixed-wing body design, a radical flying wing. The latter is a concept, but mixed-wing aircraft are not really new. The B2 stealth bomber first flew in 1989, but to meet the zero emissions goal, Airbus is offering to power all three planes with hydrogen.

There is a huge appetite for zero-emission commercial aircraft as the aviation industry strives to establish its green credentials. Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce has just announced plans for Qantas to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050 and a 25% reduction by 2030. Some of this can be achieved through a combination of biofuel sustainable aviation and carbon credits, but even now Due to the inflated cost of petroleum-based aviation fuel, biofuels are far from competitive. Nor are they available in the quantity that would be needed to cause a major change in the carbon footprint of the aviation industry.

On the other hand, hydrogen is the most abundant chemical in the universe, and burning hydrogen in a jet aircraft engine would produce only water vapor and a small amount of oxide. of nitrogen, without carbon emission. Hydrogen can either be burned in a jet engine or used as a fuel cell to generate electricity to power a propeller plane.

Electrolysis is one of the two most common ways to produce hydrogen, which requires “splitting” water with electricity. If the electricity used in this process comes from sustainable sources such as wind or solar – and Australia has the potential to produce huge amounts of both – the aviation industry is well on its way to near emissions. from zero.

Since hydrogen is a gas at room temperature, it requires enormous volume to provide energy equivalent to conventional aviation fuel, which rules out hydrogen gas as a source of jet fuel. By cooling hydrogen to -253°C, it becomes a liquid, greatly increasing its energy density, and in this state it becomes a feasible jet engine fuel. This requires a very special fuel tank, which is one of the reasons we won’t see hydrogen-powered commercial aircraft for some time. Airbus hopes to have the world’s first zero-emission commercial aircraft in the air by 2035.

And supersonic flight?

This photo courtesy of Boom Supersonic shows an artistic rendition of the United Airlines Boom Supersonic Overture jet.  United said on Thursday June 3, 2021 that it had reached an agreement with start-up aircraft manufacturer Boom Supersonic to buy 15 of Boom's Overture jets.  The planes have yet to be built, but Boom says they will fly at 1.7 times the speed of sound, or about 1,300 mph.  (Supersonic Boom via AP)

United Airlines has ordered 15 supersonic jets from Boom Supersonic. Photo: AP

They’re sleek, they look stunning, and they zip through the skies at incredible speeds – but are supersonic aircraft really relevant to our times? The fiercest of the supersonic crusaders is Denver-based Boom Supersonic, which hopes to fly its commercial airliner, the Overture, in 2030. That received a substantial boost in mid-2021 when United Airlines announced a order for 15 Overture jets.

The technical challenges are well known and Boom uses the Anglo-French Concorde as a model. The brakes are still numerous, such as the sonic boom which poses a problem for land flights, the limited number of passengers carried on board these ultra-thin aircraft, the high fuel consumption and carbon emissions at high altitude, which put it out of step with an industry eager to demonstrate its eco-credibility, and a world that demands it.

See also: Glimpse of the future: Rolls-Royce is building the world’s largest jetliner engine

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