Sustainability a Hot Topic at Paris Air Show

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The need to evolve business models and embrace new technologies and processes to increase sustainability can be seen across industries – including those that are most widely perceived as contributors to the climate crisis. This includes the transportation and aviation industries.

To help combat the climate crisis, in 2021, the global civil aviation industry committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, supported by accelerated efficiency measures, energy transition, and innovation across the aviation sector, and in partnership with governments around the world.

With this goal in mind, sustainability is unsurprisingly taking center stage at this year’s 2023 Paris Air Show. This annual showcase brings together aviation industry thought leaders with aircraft and avionics manufacturers that are revolutionizing the industry.

With the Paris Air Show ongoing, Connected Aviation Today sat down with Philippe Rouquiere who supports Connected Aircraft marketing initiatives at Collins Aerospace, to learn more about how the aviation industry is embracing sustainability.

Connected Aviation Today (CAT): According to the Waypoint 2050 Report, there are four factors that will contribute to carbon emissions in the aviation industry reaching zero by 2050. The largest factor is sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). Where is the aviation industry in the process of identifying and adopting this sustainable fuel alternative? What is standing in the way?

Philippe Rouquiere:  A mix of new technology – including innovative new propulsion technologies that could be powered by electricity and hydrogen, improvements in operations and infrastructure – will play their roles in reducing carbon emissions, but a transition to sustainable aviation fuel will be crucial to successfully achieving net-zero carbon for the aviation sector.

Sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF, is a safe replacement for conventional – fossil-based – fuel that could reduce carbon emissions. It is almost chemically identical to traditional jet fuel. It is generated from feedstocks that absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) and provide a net reduction in CO2 emissions when compared to fossil fuels.

Today, SAF is blended with conventional kerosene in ratios of up to 50 percent SAF to ensure compatibility with aircraft, engines, or fueling systems. Commercial flights are currently permitted to fly with a blend of SAF and conventional fossil-based kerosene. The industry is working towards commercial aircraft being permitted to fly with 100 percent SAF in the near future.

“The aggressive carbon emissions goals that the aviation industry has established have airlines and airports exploring ways to increase sustainability. But beyond those benefits, the cost savings and operational benefits of these new connected aviation solutions will also provide value.” – Philippe Rouquiere

However, the use of SAF fuels is not without its challenges. Today, a significant barrier to the wider use of SAF is the very limited availability of sustainable feedstock and low-carbon energy. This goes together with the issue of the cost competitiveness of SAF versus petroleum-based jet fuel. Currently, SAF can be at least three times more expensive than jet fuel.

CAT: Once again referencing the Waypoint 2050 Report, what types of technologies are contributing to reductions in aircraft emissions? is the report referring to? Are those engine technologies that increase efficiency, or other technologies that impact other parts of the aviation ecosystem?

Philippe Rouquiere: The contribution of technology refers to advancements that are being made in aircraft design and manufacturing. This includes the incremental advancements that are constantly being made to aircraft and engine efficiency.

The aviation industry produces next-generation aircraft approximately every 15 to 20 years. Each new generation of aircraft typically achieves an approximate 20 percent increase in fuel efficiency. That’s accomplished through advancements in aerodynamics, engine efficiency, lighter-weight material, more energy-efficient systems, and other elements.

In addition, the industry is making significant investments in the development of alternative power sources, which include more electric systems as well as hybrid-electric and hydrogen-based propulsion systems.

The aviation industry and aircraft manufacturers must maintain their focus on continuously improving efficiency if we’re going to meet the industry’s aggressive sustainability goals.

CAT: How does the connected aircraft contribute to operational efficiency and aircraft fuel savings? How could simply increasing the connectivity to aircraft impact sustainability and decrease emissions?

Philippe Rouquiere:  Any reduction in fuel burn that we can implement now also means a reduction of energy required from SAF or alternative propulsion solutions on the journey towards a NetZero aviation industry. And the ability to optimize aircraft operations and reduce fuel consumption is something that is possible today through increased connectivity, better data sharing and analysis, and improved flight planning.

The ability to move crucial aircraft data between various airspace stakeholders – including flight crews and air traffic managers – allows airlines to better operate their aircraft. Improved access to data and increased transparency into aircraft location and operations can also enable airlines to fly more sustainably by optimizing flight paths. It can allow them to make data-driven decisions that can save fuel, reduce aircraft downtime, and be more efficient overall.

The technologies required to move important data through the aviation ecosystem are available now. So, they can have an immediate impact on achieving sustainability goals now.

CAT: Why are connected weather updates crucial for airlines? Does this also contribute to aircraft sustainability?

Philippe Rouquiere: With longer flights, there can be a significant difference between the weather that was forecast in advance – when the flight plans are filed – and the actual weather observed during the flight. Real-time weather updates are vital to identifying and adjusting flight paths to real-time flight conditions.

“Each new generation of aircraft typically achieves an approximate 20 percent increase in fuel efficiency. That’s accomplished through advancements in aerodynamics, engine efficiency, lighter-weight material, more energy-efficient systems, and other elements.” – Philippe Rouquiere

By analyzing real-time weather conditions and adjusting the flight path to account for these circumstances, airlines and flight crews can help the aircraft to fly more optimally, leading to fuel and cost savings and contributing to sustainability.

CAT: What is Flight Profile Optimization? And how does it help keep airlines sustainable?

Philippe Rouquiere: The shortest flight path isn’t always possible and isn’t always the most optimal flight path. There are a number of factors that can influence whether a flight path is efficient or not, including traffic, weather, and other variables.

FlightHubTM Flight Profile Optimization (FPO) is a solution that aggregates the necessary data and information about the aircraft and the conditions in which it’s operating. It then analyzes that data to generate the most optimal, efficient flight path.

This solution leverages multiple disparate data streams, including real-time weather data, accurate aircraft information, and surrounding traffic data. By analyzing this data, FPO can then recommend a flight path to flight crews that prioritizes time, fuel, or cost index.

CAT: How does the connected aircraft optimize aircraft weight? How much does this contribute to fuel savings?

Philippe Rouquiere: Historically, there have been a few different ways that technology and connectivity have helped to reduce the weight of aircraft. For example, the adoption of the electronic flight bag (EFB) and electronic flight folder (EFF) eliminated the need to bring heavy paper flight books and manuals onto the aircraft.

However, there are further aircraft weight reductions that can still be achieved.

First, we can eliminate the cockpit printer, which can weigh more than 10 lbs. We can also leverage flight data and information to make better decisions regarding contingency fuel.

Airlines are required by law to carry more fuel on each flight than what is precisely necessary for its flight path. Unfortunately, this extra fuel adds weight to the aircraft, and each additional kilogram of fuel adds 3.5 percent of its own weight in fuel consumption. This means that flying with extra fuel essentially causes the aircraft to burn more fuel.

While there is no question that contingency fuel is an important and necessary safety precaution in commercial aviation, there are ways that data can increase the efficiency of carrying that extra fuel.

“By analyzing real-time weather conditions and adjusting the flight path to account for these circumstances, airlines and flight crews can help the aircraft to fly more optimally, leading to fuel and cost savings and contributing to sustainability.” – Philippe Rouquiere

Many airlines tend to overestimate the amount of contingency fuel necessary. By leveraging flight data and advanced analytics, airlines can better optimize the amount of contingency fuel needed. They can become more confident and assured in the amount of fuel they need, enabling them to stop overestimating how much fuel is needed.

CAT: Are these all things that can be done today, or are these technologies that are still in development? What would an airline have to do to increase connectivity and start to benefit from data and data analysis today?

Philippe Rouquiere: The data is already available, and so is much of the technology to move the data across the aviation ecosystem. Unfortunately, this is a challenging time for airlines, and their ability to invest in new solutions is limited. It’s up to their partners and solution providers to educate them about the long-term and short-term benefits of these solutions and show them the benefits that they’ll receive or that they can achieve based on these investments.

Every time fuel consumption decreases and operational efficiency increases, it provides more than improved sustainability – it can also deliver cost-savings and streamlined processes. The airlines that prioritize these connected aircraft projects can receive a return on their investment as their costs decrease and operations become more effective and efficient.

The aggressive carbon emissions goals that the aviation industry has established have airlines and airports exploring ways to increase sustainability. But beyond those benefits, the cost savings and operational benefits of these new connected aviation solutions will also provide value.

To learn more about how airlines can save fuel and help the planet, click HERE.

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