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 Industry on track to deliver green aircraft by 2020

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MesajSubiect: Industry on track to deliver green aircraft by 2020   Joi 18 Feb 2010, 12:22

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Industry is on track to ensure "carbon-neutral growth" in the aviation sector by 2020, but strengthened European Union support for research and development (R&D) is vital to help manufacturers deliver the green technologies required, François Gayet, secretary-general of the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD), told EurActiv in an interview.

Clean Sky programme helps EU industry stay in the front

"In 2000, not everybody was convinced we could reach our ambitious targets. But now, at mid-term, not only can we say that we will reach these targets collectively, but we are also working on new targets for 2030 and 2050," said Gayet.

He stressed that the global nature of the aerospace industry and said "today's two big competitors [US firm Boeing and French company Airbus] are competing head-to-head" to adopt the new technologies.

Meanwhile, an EU research programme to develop green aircraft (the so-called 'Clean Sky' Joint Technology Initiative; JTI) and a potential follow-up programme to support R&D on the sector are "vital" to help European industry keep up with cutting-edge research and development, Gayet insisted.

When a new generation of aeroplanes is launched to replace the Airbus A320 family, for example, the choice of technology for those planes will need to be made 7-10 years in advance, and if a manufacturer is not at the technological forefront "it could lose future competition," Gayet explained.

Economic incentives to go green

Declaring that the aviation sector would achieve "carbon-neutral growth" by 2020, Gayet underlined that environmental regulations are not the only incentive to develop greener technologies. There are also economic reasons to "green" aviation, as reduced fuel consumption and improved maintenance efficiency lowers costs for operators, he said.

"In the end, it is what I would call a virtuous circle," combining cost reduction with an improved environmental footprint, he explained.

Biofuels show great promise

"It is clear that the development of the future generation of biofuels could help a lot," he said. In particular, "drop-in biofuels," which can be mixed with traditional kerosene and put inside the same tank, do not require the development of new engines for alternative fuels, Gayet explained.

However, he added that manufacturers are "a bit cautious" about the sustainability of biofuels, especially the use of non-food crops, for example.

While crops like jatropha, camelina and algae have shown their potential for future biofuel use, "massive investments are required to bring the fuels out of laboratories" and scale up production, Gayet said.

Aircraft manufacturers play a very limited role in developing biofuels, he explained, adding that "they have done their job through testing and demonstrating that the fuels work and can be used for flying".

But other players still need to play their part. "We don't want to bet 100% on the fact that biofuels will solve all problems. This is why we need to keep on investing in technologies to reduce weight and fuel consumption," he added.

Open rotor technology could deliver quick wins

Asked whether research into certain technology fields is advancing faster than others, Gayet said significant investments have been made in open rotor technology.

An open rotor engine is essentially a turboprop with two rows of blades, or propellers, which can operate efficiently at higher speeds than a conventional turboprop. The blades of a turboprop tend to spin air out, rather than push it back in. In an open rotor engine, the forward propeller pushes the air backwards, while the rear one sucks it in. While open-rotor airliner configurations have been studied for many years, there are questions about likely airworthiness rules in areas such as engine layout and blade containment.

He said the technology had shown a lot of promise for reducing CO2 emissions, expressing hope that it could be implemented earlier than the next generation of aeroplanes. Existing planes can be retrofitted with such engines without changing their airframes, he said.

CO2 standards for aircraft

As for CO2 standards for aircraft, which are currently being drafted by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) for implementation in 2013, Gayet said that "we feel it could be a good idea, but we need to make sure that we are cautious about the way we want to implement it".

He particularly stressed the need for a thorough technical review and a feasibility study prior to implementation to demonstrate that the standard is genuinely beneficial.

In addition, "we need to make sure that the standard will not create market distortion," he warned, referring to airlines' different fuel-use strategies, which result in different environmental footprints.

"We will also need to see whether the standard will apply only to new aircraft or also to aircraft already in service, which is another issue," he said, adding that a lot of work must still be done before consensus can be reached.

Aviation and EU 2020 strategy

Gayet said the aerospace industry can play a role in the EU 2020 strategy, in that investments in the sector could help to develop breakthrough technologies to ensure the sustainable development of air transport.

"EU lawmakers should understand that actions need to be taken now to ensure that we have the right green technologies in place in 2050 to meet our ambitious targets," he said.

Gayet further underlined that the effort on public-private partnerships should be maintained and strengthened, and that a new generation of programmes for funding R&D should be developed immediately.

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