Airbus embarks on eco-partnership programme to help airline customers achieve environmental objectives
Cathay Pacific is due to take delivery of its first A350-900 XWB in early 2016 (graphic: Airbus)
Wed 27 May 2015 – Airbus has launched the Sustainable Aviation Engagement Programme in which it will provide tailored services and expertise to airline customers to help lower their environmental footprint. The programme will focus on specific objectives by airlines involving aircraft technology, aircraft operations, air traffic management (ATM) and sustainable aviation fuels. Pilot projects are currently being developed with three airlines – Cathay Pacific, British Airways and KLM – before the programme is extended to operators worldwide from 2016. With each awaiting first deliveries of Airbus’ latest aircraft, the A350 XWB, the three carriers are already involved in collaborative projects with the manufacturer covering aircraft noise reduction, end-of-life recycling and sustainable biofuel development.
Dan Carnelly, Marketing Director, Environment for Airbus, told journalists at an environmental briefing in Toulouse last week that two ‘perfect flights’ involving Airbus aircraft with the latest technology had taken place in 2011 and 2012 that utilised best-practice operations, optimised ATM and sustainable aviation fuels, which had demonstrated the potential for CO2 reductions of up to 50%.
“Now we want to move to the next level, beyond the ‘perfect flight’ and mere demonstrations,” he said. “This innovative programme offers Airbus expertise to our customers, tailoring products and services towards the industry goal of sustainable aviation. In principle, it is a framework for long-term collaboration with our customers and the aim is to demonstrate the day-to-day environmental capabilities of Airbus products and services.”
He said cross-industry cooperation involving manufacturers, airlines, airports, air navigation providers, regulators and also environmental NGOs was key in meeting the global aviation voluntary emissions reduction targets.
In a presentation, Cathay Pacific’s Head of Environmental Affairs, Dr Mark Watson, said strategic partnerships were of fundamental importance to the airline. “Quite simply, the scale of the environmental challenges we face and our climate change commitments means we cannot tackle them on our own – we have to work in partnerships,” he said. “Technology is the key and it is important for us to align our business with partners that clearly share our values, such as Airbus.”
An example of this understanding, said Watson, was on aircraft lifecycle approach. “We look at product specification, supply chain procurement, operational efficiency and, most importantly, what we do with our aircraft once they reach their end-of-life service. The Airbus recycling facility in Tarbes is truly state-of-the-art and we will show a video to our staff and customers demonstrating how one of our A340s has been dismantled and the intricate processes involved.”
Through the Engagement Programme, the airline was now working with Airbus to see how the A350-900 XWB aircraft – the first of 48 on order is expected to be delivered in early 2016 – can improve noise and emission issues at Hong Kong International Airport. These would involve feasibility studies, data modelling, simulations and trials, said Watson.
Although aviation was vital to economic growth and connectivity, the issue of its environmental impact was no longer just confined to Europe, he said. “There has been a sea change in attitudes to airport expansion in Asia and we in Hong Kong are having a challenging debate over the need for a third runway and the role aviation plays. A lot of the issues seen here in Europe, particularly over Heathrow, are now happening in a Hong Kong context. Approval for a three-runway system has been obtained but with that comes a considerable number of conditions and also challenges to our licence to grow. Some of the wider benefits that aviation brings in terms of jobs and prosperity are often being lost in the noise over environmental impacts.
“All of this puts considerable pressure on us as flag carrier to really demonstrate our sustainable development credentials and prove the need for responsible growth in the future. Our customers, investors and staff are increasingly concerned about our environmental impacts and want to know what we are doing to address them. With a mission statement to be a socially and environmentally responsible company, we want to make sure that the environment is embedded in every part of our operations.”
Addressing the industry’s environmental impacts was key to earning its licence to grow, agreed Jonathon Counsell, British Airways’ Head of Environment, and working collaboratively with partners was the most effective way to address this, he argued.
Although much of the focus had been on reducing carbon emissions, noise had risen up the environmental agenda over recent years as a reaction to airport expansion at key airports around the world with surrounding high populations, he said. BA has committed to minimise the number of people affected by noise at the airports it serves and has targeted a 15% reduction in noise per flight by 2018 compared to 2013.
“Two years ago we looked at how collaboration could address this issue and established a ‘quieter flight’ partnership with Airbus, Heathrow Airport and the UK air traffic control authority NATS,” he said.
The project has developed noise abatement departure procedures for BA’s A380 aircraft that, uniquely, can reduce thrust temporarily during the departure phase of a flight. This, claims Counsell, can greatly reduce engine noise over the most noise-sensitive areas, typically with the highest levels of population. He reported that four flight trials have confirmed up to a 5 decibel noise benefit can be achieved.
The partners are also working on early-morning arrivals procedures that involve the aircraft descending in a slightly steeper approach of 3.2 degrees instead of 3.0 degrees – too steep an angle requires earlier landing gear deployment, so creating additional noise – and trials are being undertaken this month. Early next year, trials will begin on a two-segment approach in which the aircraft will smoothly transition from 4 degrees in the first segment of the approach to 3.2 degrees in the second.
“Being steeper earlier means you are even higher from the ground and at say 10 miles out you can be 1,000 feet higher than usual, which results in a 5db reduction in noise,” he said.
Sustainable alternative fuels was another area where working collaboratively could provide a big opportunity to reduce the sector’s environmental impacts, added Counsell.
Airbus is already collaborating with another of the Programme’s launch customers, KLM, on developing a market for sustainable fuels and in 2014 the airline launched a series of biofuel-powered flights of an A330-200 from Amsterdam to Aruba and Bonaire.
“We worked intensively with Airbus during the entire project to study the engine performance during the flights,” reported Eileen van den Tweel, KLM’s Innovation Manager. “The Airbus engagement programme is a logical next step in this cooperation, enabling us to expand our relationship to areas other than biofuels.”