CEO Briefing: Aerospace and the environment

At the ADS CEO Briefing, held last month ahead of the ADS Annual Dinner, we ran our first FINN Sessions panel, debating the key issues affecting aerospace companies. One of the topics on the agenda was the environment, and Colin Smith, Chairman of the Aerospace Growth Partnership & President, ADS, had strong views on the subject.

Keeping the noise down

One of the most common concerns about a third runway at Heathrow is around noise pollution.

Colin Smith commented: “The best place to put the runway [would actually be] on the embankment, on the grounds that with the traffic noise and trains going past, you wouldn't hear the aeroplanes. That's genuinely true.”

“Noise is a very complex subject,” Smith added. “If you've got background noise, then you don't hear noises that are quieter. One of the problems of putting aircraft in the countryside is you hear them over the sparrows. Stick them in the town, and you won't hear them.”

Reaching a compromise 

“There comes a point where you don't need to do much more [on noise],” Smith said. “I suspect the latest aeroplanes out of Airbus and Boeing are at a point where it would be daft to try and go any further on noise. There is always a compromise in aerospace. If you make the aircraft quieter, you will probably make it slower or less fuel-efficient. You've got to get the balance just right.”

He concluded that in future: "We’ll get more modern aircraft, much bigger dilution, and the older aircraft will start going. People just genuinely won't notice the more modern aircraft.”

Climate change

On the environment more widely, Smith said the industry has to keep working at it.

“Climate change, in my view, is happening,” Smith said. “You're getting increased volatility. The volatility is an issue for aerospace, and we're all going to have to get used to that. With volatility, extreme weather events are going to become more common. That was modelled 10/15 years ago, and I think you're beginning to see it. Also, of course, you're now hearing about it a lot more because everyone's got a smartphone.”

He noted, however, that civil aerospace accounts for 2.5% of CO2 production, “which is slightly less than the internet [and Bitcoin]”.

“But as you do decarbonise other sectors, aerospace will start to stick out more,” Smith commented.

Going electric

Smith said more electric aircraft are “absolutely fundamental” to improving the efficiency of aircraft.

However, he added: “You're not going to get a transatlantic electric aeroplane powered by batteries. Batteries are about 100 times less efficient than kerosene. It doesn't matter in a Tesla [because] you don't go very far.”

He said he has no doubt the sector will electrify aircraft more: “We'll get rid of the pneumatics, we'll get rid of the hydraulics. We'll put more high power electrics on it. But you're not going to get an all-electric solution for long-range transport. Short-range, hopping around town, maybe, and you can get a really good solution there.”

You can watch the full panel debate here, covering Brexit, skills shortages, leadership challenges and more.

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