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New Aircraft Designs Offer Greater Passenger Comfort/More Efficient Engines, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

An important selling point in new passenger aircraft, whether built by Airbus or Boeing, is comfort.  Changes in seat configuration, window size and cabin climate are all key elements when buying new planes.
At Boeing, for example, the 787 Dreamliner offers a new, patented eight-seats-across configuration in economy class.  The three-two-three arrangement allows seats that measure 19 inches across instead of 17, which is standard on Boeing 737s and 757s.  However, the plane’s cabin is wide enough to fit nine seats across, allowing some buyers to configure the cabin with narrower seats and more passengers.
Windows on new aircraft models are significantly larger, as much as 65% bigger than those on older planes.  The increased size allows outside views from almost any seat.  Another window improvement is a film covering that can be adjusted by flight attendants to block out light during movies while still allowing passengers to see out.
Boeing and Airbus both have improved in-flight cabin humidity levels.  Airbus’ new A350 XWB has the ability to achieve 20% humidity while the Dreamliner offers 15%.  Both are a tangible improvement of the 10% level on existing airplanes.  Meanwhile, increased entertainment and relaxation features will be featured in new aircraft at many airlines. 

SPOTLIGHT:  Aircraft Emissions
The International Council on Clean Transportation estimates that the aviation industry generates 2.4% of global fossil fuel emissions, compared to 16% for ground transport.  While there are no official fuel efficiency standards for the aircraft industry, efforts to improve have been made.  Boeing and Airbus planes are 70% more efficient per passenger and mile than they were in the 1970s, according to official data. 
The problem is that the number of fliers has multiplied in recent years, and the IATA forecasted that flier numbers would double again by 2037.  Commercial flight emissions rose 30% between 2013 and 2018.  An alternative to fuel-powered jets may be hybrid jets such as the 50-seat model in development by startup Zunum Aero (which has received financial support from Boeing and JetBlue).  Meanwhile, Airbus, Rolls Royce and Siemens are working on the E-Fan X, which may begin test flights in 2021.

     The Holy Grail of airliner engineering is to save dramatic amounts of fuel, which will require significant savings in weight in both airframes and engines, along with improvements in engine design.  The next generation of jet engines will soon be commercialized, as the global airline industry has set high goals for fuel consumption reduction.  Engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney has designed an engine called PurePower PW 1000G that promises double-digit reductions in fuel use and emissions while reducing engine noise by as much as 50%.  It will be offered on the new Airbus A320neo.  The engine uses a technology called Geared Turbofan.  This radical engine utilizes a gear box to vary the speeds between the fan and the turbine for more efficiency.
GE, in partnership with French aerospace and defense firm Safran SA, has created a new joint venture called CFM International (www.cfmaeroengines.com ).  It developed the LEAP engine with dramatically lower emissions, 16% fuel use reduction and much quieter operation, which was first delivered in mid-2015 to Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC).  The LEAP engines are available on both the new Airbus A320neo and the Boeing 737 MAX.  Meanwhile CFM International is working on a revolutionary design, an “open rotor” concept—something like the open propellers on non-jets, with exceptional weight savings and efficiency.
Where it can, GE is also using ceramic composites instead of metal to dramatically lighten the weight of engines and other aircraft parts.  One example is an engine used in the Boeing 787 which utilizes a ceramic-composite fan case and blade and weighs 3% less than its metal counterpart.  Both Boeing and Airbus are relying more and more on composite materials to decrease weight and increase fuel efficiency.  Boeing’s 787 is made of 50% carbon fiber composites, while Airbus’ A350 is made of 53% composites.
Boeing’s new 777X features 233-foot-long carbon fiber wings, with improved aerodynamics that require 15% less thrust than earlier 777 models.  The wings have hydraulic actuators that fold hinged wingtips after landings, allowing the jets to use taxiways and gates in standard sizes.


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