The growing aviation industry has a large impact on climate change, producing more CO2 emissions than any other method of transport. The efficiency of aircraft, therefore, does not only cost the environment, but also the passenger through their airfare. In order to restrict the total global warming to its 2-degree limit (whilst the demand for aircraft seats rises 5% annually), investments have been made into the economical consumption of fuel in aircraft. New developments in aircraft technologies have made improvements to the range of flights per unit of jet fuel, thereby reducing flight costs: the less fuel burnt per flight the cheaper the ticket for passengers.
New technological advances in aerodynamics have the greatest impact on fuel efficiency; the inclusion of winglets on aircraft can result in a 6% decrease in fuel emissions as these devices found at the tip of the wings create additional thrust. Moreover, technology still in development such as ‘blended wing bodies’ are expected to reduce fuel consumption by up to 27% as well as a 15% weight reduction. NASA expects such designs for commercial craft could be available by 2035.
Beyond changes to the physical design of aircraft, techniques can be applied in-flight to reduce the amount of fuel consumed. Studies have shown that strategic navigation through imperfect weather can impact how fuel is saved: avoiding rough winds and storms by using a ‘flexible navigation system’ that makes use of real-time data can diminish CO2 emissions by 1.4 tonnes per flight.
Modern aircraft that consider weight and reduced air resistance are becoming more common as a result of their clear advantages in fuel efficiency. Airbus and Boeing, with a combined market share of 88%, are introducing slightly smaller, highly fuel-efficient craft to compete with their flagships (the A380 and 747 respectively). Boeing has announced its new ‘737 Max 10’ craft with greater range, capacity and cost efficiency. The 737 Max 10 promises great fuel savings as a result of engine and aerodynamic advances; the Max 10 is said to be 12% more efficient than the current 737s. Additionally, Boeing claims that this craft will incur 5% less operating costs compared to its greatest competitor the Airbus A321neo.
Much like the 737 Max 10, the A321neo is a single-aisle craft, considered the workhorse of airlines. As these smaller crafts are now capable of crossing the Atlantic and carrying more passengers, their efficiency and lower operational costs are attractive for common routes offered by airlines. The A320neo claims to be the “most advanced and fuel-efficient” aircraft thanks to their new-generation engines and “fuel-saving” devices located on its wingtips. Airbus asserts that their neo range boasts 15% less fuel-consumption than the regular A320s.
Larger, quad-engine craft like the Boeing 747 and Airbus A380 are gradually being phased out due to their larger fuel consumption caused by their greater wing weight and smaller engine-fan diameter. Hence these modern, twin-jet, aeroplanes are now preferred by airlines as their lighter bodies are capable of the same range of the aforementioned heavier craft, with far less fuel consumption.
With more than 50,000 aircraft expected to be in service by 2040, the significance of fuel-efficient technologies used by aircraft are not only important for the increasing impact aviation has on the planet, but the cost-efficacy of flying in general.