Airbus has unveiled images of a Concept Plane at the Farnborough International Airshow to illustrate what air transport could look like in 2050, or even as early as 2030 if advancements in existing technologies continue apace.
Experts from Airbus in aircraft materials, aerodynamics, cabins and engines came up with the design, which is an ‘engineer’s dream’ to meet the expectations of the passengers of the future. Ultra-long and slim wings, semi-embedded engines, a U-shaped tail and a lightweight, ‘intelligent’ body all feature to further improve environmental performance or ‘eco-efficiency’. The result would be lower fuel burn, a significant cut in emissions, less noise and greater comfort.
“The Airbus Concept Plane represents an engineer’s dream about what an aircraft could look like in the long term future. It’s not a real aircraft and all the technologies it features, though feasible, are not likely to come together in the same manner,” says Charles Champion, executive vice president engineering at Airbus. “Here we are stretching our imagination and thinking beyond our usual boundaries. With the Airbus Concept Plane we want to stimulate young people from all over the world to engage with us so that we can continue to share the benefits of air transport while also looking after the environment.”
A recent poll conducted for Airbus suggests that the passengers of 2050 will be more environmentally aware but will also recognize the many benefits of air travel. For the British public aged under 35, ‘environmental issues’ are second only to ‘cost’ as a barrier to flying; those aged 55+ rank ease of getting to the airport, flight duration and comfort as being more important. Yet the majority of under-35s also look forward to flying more in the future. More than 40 per cent think that for every two flights we make today, we will take at least three by 2050. One in 10 people expects to fly at least twice as much.
(The poll’s total sample size was 2,243 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken from July 12 to July 14, 2010 inclusive. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all British adults aged 18+.)
Airbus says that behind the numbers is a belief that people will live in an increasingly multicultural world where friends and family will be based further from home, according to 68 per cent; 64 per cent cite a growing desire to travel further and see more of the planet; and 54 per cent highlight the need for greater flexibility between life at home and place of work. At the same time, independent forecasts predict the global population will almost double – topping 9 billion.
“Most of us want reduced traffic congestion – both on the ground and in the sky – together with improved comfort for a better travelling experience; the poll confirms that,” says Robin Mannings, an independent futurologist. “By 2050, we’ll also expect seamless access to a plethora of technology and applications. And ‘flexibility’ will become the new mantra for air travel, with us as passengers choosing levels of speed or luxury in cruise ships of the sky.”
Further future-gazing by Airbus shows blueprints for radical aircraft interiors. In ‘The Future by Airbus’ the company envisages morphing seats made from ecological, self-cleaning materials, which change shape for a snug fit; walls that become see-through at the touch of a button, affording 360-degree views of the world below; and holographic projections of virtual decors, allowing travelers to transform their private cabin into an office, bedroom or Zen garden.
‘Green’ energy sources like fuel cells, solar panels or even body heat might provide energy for powering some systems on tomorrow’s aircraft. As aeronautics engineers continue to use nature as a source of inspiration, some of these aircraft may even fly in formation like birds to reduce drag, fuel burn and emissions.
Airbus is looking to the passengers of 2050 themselves for inspiration as the company enters its next 40 years of innovation. Friday, July 23 is Futures Day at the Farnborough International Airshow, with a programme of activities to engage young people. Airbus is running focus groups to ask the next generation what they want from air travel. The same day, registration opens for Airbus’ ‘Fly Your Ideas’ – a global competition challenging University students to develop new ideas for a greener aviation industry. The winners will share the top prize of € 30,000; the runners-up €15,000.