Fuel consumption of new aircraft could be reduced by 40% within 20 years using emerging technologies
Saab is developing an advanced natural laminar flow wing that reduces fuel consumption as part of Europe's Clean Sky environmental research programme
Tue 27 Sept 2016 – The fuel consumption of new aircraft designs can be reduced by around 25% in 2024 and 40% in 2034 compared with today’s aircraft by deploying emerging cost-effective technologies, finds a report by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT). This represents a more than doubling of average annual fuel efficiency improvement from slightly less than 1% since 1980 to 2.2% by 2034. The industry’s preference of late for the re-engining of aircraft rather than ‘clean sheet’ designs means key airframe technologies to improve fuel efficiency are being under-deployed, argues ICCT. Based on fleet forecasts, US airlines alone could save around 71 billion gallons of jet fuel, or more than 20% of total consumption, over the 2025 to 2050 timeframe through new aircraft technologies. With the additional benefits to the environment and consumers, this is equal to cost savings of about $285 billion based on current fuel prices.
Building on an ICAO report in 2010 by an independent expert group that looked at medium and long term goals for aviation fuel burn reduction from emerging technologies, this new study estimates implementation costs and benefits to the US airline fleet. It was carried out in cooperation with a panel of industry and academic technical experts using NASA and US Department of Defense approved models to evaluate aviation technology programmes and assess over 45 discrete technologies (see graphic below). It looked at three aircraft types – single aisle, small twin aisle and regional jet – on a fuel per revenue passenger kilometre basis.
Assuming no further technological gains compared with today’s aircraft and given the projected growth in traffic, in 2050 US airlines would emit more than twice their CO2 emissions in 2005. Implementing cost-effective, fuel-efficient technologies could though reduce CO2 emissions by 6% in 2030 and by more than 30% in 2050, reducing overall CO2 emissions between 2025 and 2050 by roughly 800 million metric tonnes.
ICCT says lower fuel prices associated with increased supply and/or lower demand do have the potential to slow the deployment of fuel-efficient technologies in new aircraft, which may be particularly pronounced in the mid-term as the universe of potential technologies expands. However, across all the scenarios, for each dollar spent to purchase a more advanced aircraft, roughly $3 would be saved in operational costs (fuel plus maintenance) over a 17-year first-owner lifetime, with additional benefits to the purchasers of used aircraft, finds the study.
The report comes as the ICAO Assembly discusses the CO2 standard agreed by ICAO’s Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection and awaiting formal adoption. It will impose minimum fuel-efficiency targets for new aircraft designs with entry into service dates of approximately 2024 and will require about 30% of the cost-effective, near-term technology potential identified in the study, says ICCT. If the US Environmental Protection Agency, which is currently deliberating on rules to reduce CO2 from US aviation, were to strengthen ICAO’s recommended standard then ICCT says substantial economic and environmental benefits could accrue from the available new technologies.
ICCT acknowledges that for aircraft manufacturers like Airbus and Boeing, a new aircraft programme is a high-risk endeavour, requiring large upfront R&D expense, and the desire to avoid such risk may have contributed to the move to incremental improvements such as re-engining rather than completely new designs. Continued support for government research programmes like the NASA Environmentally Responsible Aviation project could alleviate some of the risk and cost burdens for manufacturers, allowing them to pursue more ambitious fuel-efficiency targets for their new products, it suggests. Other policy incentives to promote fuel efficiency, such as emissions trading or charges, could also be employed, along with airport charges that rewarded airlines operating the most efficient aircraft.
Examples of aircraft fuel-saving technologies assessed by ICCT study: