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Flying Green

A distinct green tinge hung over this year’s Farnborough Air Show as the aviation community, battered by the volatile price of oil and embattled by activists and government regulators, set out to establish their environmental bona fides.

October 8, 2008  By David Carr

8The aerospace industry used the 60th edition of the Farnborough Air Show to showcase green technology and wave a couple of red flags. David Carr reports in the third of three parts on Flying Green.

A distinct green tinge hung over this year’s Farnborough Air Show as the aviation community, battered by the volatile price of oil and embattled by activists and government regulators, set out to establish their environmental bona fides. Canada’s Bombardier Aerospace promoted the 100- and 140-seat CSeries passenger jets launched at the beginning of the show by littering the grounds with recycling bins that announced, “A new planet, a new plane.”

“The CSeries family offers the greatest single-aisle aircraft in its class,” Gary Scott, president of Bombardier Commercial Aircraft and a former Boeing executive, commented. “It will set a new benchmark in the industry, using as little as two litres of fuel per passenger per 100 kilometres in its more dense seating layouts.”

The consensus is everybody wants a new generation of airplanes that are quieter, cleaner and more fuel efficient, but Walter Di Bartolomeo, vice-president of engineering for Montreal-based Pratt & Whitney Canada (P&WC) denies that aviation has only just caught on. “P&WC has been focused on minimizing any environmental impact for 20 years,” he told Wings. “The PW307, which powers the Dassault Falcon 7X, is one of the greenest engines in its market today, while the PW800 is designed to stay ahead of ICAO standards for 10 to 15 years.”


Other sources for improvement will come from new aircraft designs, lighter components and advances in bio-fuel technology, a challenge Scott Carson, chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, compares to landing a man on the moon, a 180-degree turn for the manufacturer from the 2006 edition of Farnborough. But for now at least, the engine appears to be the thing, with every manufacturer under pressure to develop new ones.

P&WC is Canada’s largest investor in aerospace research and development and is pumping $1.5 billion into engine R&D over five years while establishing partnerships with leading universities and research centres across the country.

The biggest splash at Farnborough was P&WC parent Pratt & Whitney’s PurePower PW1000G engine, which flew for the first time on July 11, from the company’s base in East Hartford, Conn. onboard a Boeing 747SP testbed. Versions of the PW1000G (formerly known as a geared turbofan) have been selected as “sole option” engines to power both the Bombardier CSeries and Mitsubishi Regional Jet.

While the fan at the front of a conventional turbofan engine forces air into a combustion chamber where it is burned, the PW1000G is designed around a gear box which allows the turbine and fan to run at different, optimized speeds. The turbine can be smaller. The fan can be larger but will spin slower, delivering what Pratt & Whitney claims will be 50 per cent less noise and a 12 to 15 per cent reduction in fuel burn.

Pratt & Whitney has invested over US$1 billion in the PW1000G family. After clocking 40 hours flying on the 747SP testbed, the engine will be shipped to Toulouse for an additional 75 hours testing on an Airbus A340-600. A PW1524G version that will power the CSeries is expected to fly for the first time in 2010 and be certified in 2011 in time for the aircraft’s test program in 2012. The CSeries is expected
to enter service in 2013.

The engine manufacturer sees potential for the PW1000G family on any future narrowbody Boeing 737/Airbus A320 replacement program and reports that it has been approached by a manufacturer for possible widebody applications, although it is unlikely that an engine for the 60,000 to 100,000 lbs. thrust range would be available before 2017 at the earliest.

Pratt & Whitney appears to be pinning the future of the PW1000G engine on Bombardier and Mitsubishi, and analysts suggest if the engine maker can establish geared turbofan credentials early, it might be a race to the purchase window. Airbus, which has already criticized Bombardier for launching the CSeries with nothing firmer than a letter of intent from Germany’s Lufthansa for 60 aircraft, reports that it could have a PW1000G-powered A320 in service within two-and-a-half years of giving the green light.

And while Pratt & Whitney has seized the momentum, other engine manufacturers are not sitting idle. General Electric expects its next generation of eCore engines to be 16 per cent more fuel efficient, and as reported in the September/October 2007 issue of Wings, manufacturers are dusting off the open rotor engine concept that had once been tested in the 1980s on an MD-80 before being scrapped. The main challenge with the open rotor is that a noisier engine offsets advances in performance and fuel efficiency.

“Developing environmentally-friendly technologies that also deliver on performance at the right cost is always a balancing act,” P&WC’s Di Bartolomeo noted.

The 60th edition of Farnborough was a showcase for cleaner and greener technologies, but several industry leaders warned that the future could be put on hold if governments punish the industry with too many green taxes that are also disproportionate to the industry’s own carbon footprint (just two per cent of global man-made CO2 emissions) and the advances already made.

“The PW307 already surpasses the most stringent ICAO standards for emissions by 33 per cent,” Di Bartolomeo points out, “and our TALON2 combustor technology meets Zurich 5 requirements for no surcharges. The next generation TALON combustion system will reduce emissions by up to 50 per cent for nitrous oxide and 35 per cent for carbon monoxide emissions, and will also achieve low unburned hydrocarbons and smoke emissions.”

Thomas Enders, chief executive of Airbus Industrie, has been critical of the European Union imposing a severe carbon-trading system that will cost airlines an additional $5.4 billion US a year beginning in 2011, while dragging its feet on a more efficient single European navigation system that the International Air Transport Association estimates would reduce fuel burn and carbon emissions by ten per cent. “The innovation is in technology, not in taxes,” Enders told a Farnborough sustainable aviation briefing.


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