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Formation flying, bio-fuel and steeper take-offs - how the aviation industry is aiming to reduce its carbon footprint

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Written by: Gavin Thompson | Posted 13 August 2015 16:27

Formation flying, bio-fuel and steeper take-offs - how the aviation industry is aiming to reduce its carbon footprint
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Planes are already running on bio-fuels as the aviation industry looks for ways to reduce its carbon footprint.

Colin Sirett, head of research and technology at Airbus UK, set out hw the company and industry is thinking of ways to become more sustainable as the demand for flying grows.

He told an audience of 120 people at the M Shed that becoming greener was not just about the aircraft but how they are operated.

Check out our picture gallery from the event here

“In the next 15 years we’ve got a doubling of demand for global air travel,” he said.

He set out some of the ideas Airbus, which employs close to 4,000 people in Filton, Bristol, is working on.

“We’re looking at assisted take off and climb,” he said. “If we can reduce the power required to take off and we reach greater altitude faster we can reduce fuel burn.

“We are taking the lessons learned from birds and looking at formation flight.”

He said that could be done using satellite navigation technology today but needs more computer power and bandwidth.

“With formation flying, with planes about one mile behind the preceding aircraft, you can reduce fuel consumption by 15 per cent.”

Another idea is gliding rather than powered landings.

“The space shuttle has been doing that for many years,” said Colin. “The key is how we manage the skies on that final approach to the runway.

“Then once on the ground we can use regenerative breaking – using energy generating from breaking and putting it back into the aircraft to use later. It’s already used today in Formula One.”

And he said some of that energy could be used to power the planes while on the ground, keeping the lights on while passengers disembark and crews prepare the cabin for the next flight.

“An aircraft drives about 120,000 miles on the ground during its life,” he said. “This is where the engine is at its least efficient, if we can replace that with electric power we’ll make a significant improvement.”

And finally he said talked about fuel, suggesting airports of the future could grow their own sources of bio-fuels on site.

“We are flying some aircraft today with a 50-50 mix of aviation fuel and bio-fuel,” he revealed. “There’s about 10,000 hours already been conducted using this combination and feedback is very positive.

“But the challenge on bio fuel is getting the volumes up.”

If large swathes of the agriculture industry shifted to supplying aviation fuel it would leave parts of the world to go hungry, so other ways have to be found to supply it.

“If we can do that we can have fuel for the future,” said Colin.

He was speaking at the Bristol Connected business breakfast. The regular networking event is run by South West Business and the Bristol Post with the aim of helping businesses in the city to connect.

The event was packed with 120 people from a range of industries who also had the chance to see some of the latest technology in action, from easyJet’s Apple Watch app to make life easier for passengers to Airbus’ laser cutting equipment and the latest materials being used by the National Composites Centre.

Rachael Everard, Rolls-Royce global sustainability manager

Rachael Everard, pictured, global sustainability manager at Rolls-Royce told attendees how the company was investing in “better power for a changing world”.

“Our world is changing, climate is altering,” she said. “At the same time global populations are growing. We are already consuming resources at double the planet’s capacity.

“Sustainability is now more than ever a business imperative.

“Better power means helping our customers to do more using less.”

Melanie King, environment manager at Bristol Airport

Melanie King, environment manager at Bristol Airport, talked about how the airport flies to 117 destinations and was growing quickly and trying to do that in a sustainable way. But that means working together.

“We are just the airport,” she said. “We don’t own or fly the aircraft so it’s about how we work together across the industry to focus on sustainability.

“There are changes already happening. In the last couple of decades there’s been 30 per cent improvement in fuel efficiency and halved the noise footprint.

“We’ve changed procedures coming into land. We had a stepped approach in and now moving to continuous descent. Aircraft stay higher for longer so it’s quieter for some people and it has less fuel burn.

“We ask out airlines to turn one of their engines off when taxiing and when on the stand they used to leave engines running to power the cabin, but with newer stands we can plug them in.

“All these things need a collaborative approach. Airlines need to be on board, NATS need to manage the space so they can those landings and it’s about having newer aircraft.”

Melanie added: “Today is a unique opportunity to bring have all these sectors in one place. It’s something unique about Bristol to have all these companies here together.”

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