Large Passenger Aircraft
What is a Large Passenger Aircraft and what are the challenges?
Large Commercial Aircraft – or in the Clean Sky lexicon Large Passenger Aircraft, are generally considered to be aircraft carrying over roughly 100 passengers or an equivalent cargo loading across short/medium up to very long distances. This includes today’s “narrow-body” aircraft which are usually designed and configured around the median of 150 seats, twin-aisle aircraft for medium (200 – 300 seats) and large capacity (roughly 300 – 400 seats) for both mid and long range trips; and “very large” aircraft with two passenger decks and generally over 400 seats. It should be noted that the largest (sometimes stretched models) of regional aircraft might carry the same amount of passengers as the shortened versions of airliners (the Airbus A318, the shortest aircraft in the A320 family, has approximately 100 seats). One point of difference though is the fact that regional aircraft are mainly for short haul flights, whereas Large Passenger Aircraft can be for short, medium, and long-haul missions.
The challenges? From a market perspective, there's fierce competition – not just between the main manufacturers and global leaders (such as Airbus and Boeing) but from what are often mistakenly referred to as "emerging markets" - which in fact are not "emerging" but are actually nations with well established aerospace industries, especially in Russia and China, with the ability to produce aircraft that are capable of capturing market-share (especially in their home markets) – albeit with products that technologically are until now comparable to the legacy level of the global leaders, using conventional configurations. Nevertheless these aircraft can be produced and supplied very competitive cost levels and the competition for technology and innovation is certain to increase.
The challenge for Clean Sky 2's Large Passenger Aircraft Programme is to further mature technologies tackled in Clean Sky 1, such as the integration of CROR propulsion systems (a radical new type of aero-engine without a nacelle which can ingest air and produce thrust more efficiently than today's conventional engines), and to validate other key technologies such as wings and empennages (the aircraft tail), making use of advanced and hybrid laminar airflow wing developments, as well as an all-new next generation fuselage cabin and cockpit-navigation.
It's an approach that builds on the positive experience in Smart Fixed Wing Aircraft (SFWA) Programme of Clean Sky 1.
For Clean Sky 2, the Large Passenger Aircraft goal is high-TRL demonstration of the best technologies to accomplish the combined key ACARE goals with respect to the environment, fulfilling future market needs and improving the competitiveness of Europe's aeronautical industries.
The plan for the Large Passenger Aircraft Programme is to develop these new technologies by streaming them in to three parallel workload platforms, focusing on new propulsion systems and their integration in future aircraft; the future of the fuselage and aircraft systems concepts for possible next generation cabin architectures; and the ‘cockpit of the future’.
These three platforms will include large scale demonstrators, test rigs and flight test demonstration for the first one.
Platform 1: Advanced Engine and Aircraft Configurations
This will provide the environment to explore and validate the integration of the most fuel-efficient propulsion concept for next-generation short and medium range aircraft: the CROR engine. Large scale demonstration will include extensive flight testing with a full size demo engine mounted on the Airbus A340-600 test aircraft, and a full size rear end structural ground demonstrator.
Two demonstrators are planned to mature the concept of “hybrid laminar flow” targeting substantial aerodynamic drag reduction for next generation long range aircraft.
A further demonstration is planned for a comprehensive exploration of the concept of dynamically scaled flight testing. The target is to examine the representativeness of dynamically scaled testing for technology demonstration with highly unconventional aircraft configuration, which means flight test demonstrations that are virtually impossible with modified “standard” test aircraft. The scaling of these tests could allow for important cost reduction and an acceleration in the discovery and validation of radical new aircraft configurations, even allowing a “plug and play” insertion of different aircraft wing or body shapes and breaking new ground in aerodynamics, in flight control and also in flight mechanics.
Platform 2 Innovative Physical Integration Cabin – System – Structure
This aims to develop, mature, and demonstrate an entirely new and advanced fuselage structural concept developed in full alignment with next-generation cabin-cargo architectures, including all relevant principal aircraft systems.
To be able to account for the substantially different requirements of the test programs, the large scale demonstration will be based on three individual major demonstrators:
- A lower centre section fuselage and one “typical” fuselage stretching from aft of the centre section to the pressure bulkhead will be developed, manufactured and tested with focus on loads and fatigue aspects.
- A further “typical” fuselage demonstrator will be dedicated to integrate and test a next generation of large passenger/cargo aircraft. A number of smaller test rigs and component demonstrators will also be part of the Programme in the preparatory phase.
- Aiming to accomplish technology readiness level 6, manufacturing and assembly concepts for the next generation of integrated fuselage-cabin-cargo approach will be developed and demonstrated.
Platform 3 Next Generation Aircraft Systems, Cockpit and Avionics
Platform 3 has a dedicated focus on developing and demonstrating a next generation cockpit and navigation suite.
Based on the results of a number of research programmes that are currently ongoing or to be started shortly, platform 3 shall allow the Programme to integrate and validate all functions and features which are emerging from individual developments into a disruptive new concept in a major demonstrator suite.
With the core of platform 3 being a major ground-based demonstrator, selected features and functions will be brought to flight test demonstration when justified. The scope of platform 3 will cover the development of a disruptive cockpit operations concept, a rethinking towards a “Human Centric” based cockpit to operate the aircraft, including innovative functions and Human-Machine interface technologies required to reduce the crew workload, improve situational awareness and support disruptive cockpit operations.
In addition, the development of value-driven end-to-end maintenance service architectures will be investigated, enabling the replacement of scheduled maintenance by efficient on-condition maintenance.
Last year, 3.5 billion people and 51 million metric tons of cargo were transported by the world’s airlines, on a global fleet numbering around 26,000 aircraft - averaging 100,000 flights a day over 51,000 regional, national, international and intercontinental network routes. That's according to data published by IATA in its 2016 Annual review.
Large passenger aircraft are responsible for carrying the lion's share of those statistics, and over the next 20 years, IATA expects these numbers to double.
That's a prediction shared by the world's two biggest manufacturers of Large Passenger Aircraft, Airbus and Boeing, which have a very similar and positive prognosis of market demand over the next twenty years:
Airbus anticipates annual passenger growth at 4.6% , necessitating 32,600 new large passenger and dedicated freighter aircraft, a market valued at US$4.9 trillion.
Boeing's expectation is "a need for 38,050 airplanes valued at more than $5.6 trillion over the next 20 years", with 40% of that figure being delivered to the Asia/Pacific region – twice the combined amount of large aircraft that will be delivered to Europe and North America.
Tomorrow’s challenge, today’s call to action
Europe has a globally respected position in the design and manufacture of large passenger aircraft.
The combined strength of Europe’s well-known global leader in manufacturing passenger jets, fortified with a resilient and innovative supply chain for engines, systems and components - as well as a state-of-the art infrastructure of universities and research institutes - creates a critical mass and momentum that enables a globally competitive “eco-system” which incorporates extensive knowledge and technology, ultimately enabling product innovation and improvement for the future.
Confidence in the market will translate into better passenger experience – and heightened levels of eco-compliance, stimulating an ongoing regime of aircraft design improvement which has societal benefits beyond the environmental advantages and enhanced passenger experience, particularly in areas of job creation.
The key is to have the technologies and infrastructure in place to match future demand by scaling up production and accelerating manufacturing timeframes - which means that SMEs and lower-tier suppliers as well as the well-known “Tier 1” major suppliers in the LPA supply-chain have to adapt at the same pace as the airframer. It's a process of adaption that has to be expertly orchestrated in order to maintain quality and on-time deliveries. And the crucial role of the “knowledge creation and transfer” from the labs onto the demonstrator aircraft, and ultimately into the next generation of passenger aircraft is an elaborate “symphony”of contributors that the Clean Sky 2 Programme aims to support – across the entire innovation chain.
Europe's leadership in innovative aeronautical technologies, and the strength of collaboration forged between stakeholders in the Clean Sky ecosystem, are two key factors that create an innovative value chain that can adapt to the growing demands of the large passenger aircraft market, presenting strategic opportunities for Europe's aviation sector across design, manufacturing, research and academia.
Clean Sky 2's three Large Passenger Aircraft demonstrator platforms of Advanced Engine and Aircraft Configurations; Innovative Physical Integration Cabin – System – Structure; and Next Generation Aircraft Systems, Cockpit and Avionics grasp that opportunity by virtue of their coordinated, interconnected and holistic approach to simultaneously advancing a complete spectrum of new solutions, technologies and approaches across every facet of large passenger aircraft conception, research, design, development, testing, certification, and ultimately service entry.
Clean Sky 2's role at the front end of that process is to embrace the potential - built up through its now established ecosystem, new technologies and resources – to enable all stakeholders in this process to translate that opportunity into the large passenger aircraft of tomorrow.