Industry challenges around sustainability and skills gaps are issues which can only be solved if manufacturers put aside competitive boundaries and work together.
FINN caught up with Paul Stein, Chief Technology Officer of Rolls Royce following a meeting of the CTOs from seven global aerospace manufacturers which unveiled a three-point strategy for improving sustainability. The meeting brought together the CTOs of Rolls-Royce, Airbus; The Boeing Company; Dassault Aviation, Safran and Paul Eremenko of UTC.
Stein explained: “We’ve all got together because we have decided to cross competitive boundaries to make sure that the aviation industry drives more rapidly towards the sustainable outcome that we all need.”
Three point sustainability strategy
The industry leaders unveiled a three-point strategy for improved sustainability, which included the “relentless pursuit” of improvements to aircraft and engine design and development to improve fuel efficiency and reduced CO2 emissions. The second point of the strategy was supporting the commercialisation of sustainable, alternate aviation fuels, while the third focused on developing radically new aircraft and propulsion technology which will enable a ‘third generation’ of aviation.
As well as sustainability, Stein said manufacturers were also working together in a bid to tackle other entire industry issues including the skills gap. “We’re looking at pre-competitive issues, so issues where we think can drive the pace of change, particularly on sustainability, by working together. It’s not just sustainability we are working together on, we are also working on STEM outreach, trying to attract younger people into aviation.”
“We’ve got so many exciting challenges ahead, we know we are going to need so many enterprising young adult minds to get onto these challenges, so that’s another topic that we are working on together.”
'Repurposing' fossil fuel industry
Stein said technological advances would play a huge part in tackling these challenges, but in some areas, such as fuel sustainability, the pace of change would have to be more gradual.
“We have to remember that the fossil fuels industry has been around for 100 years and it’s a huge and very mature industry. We are asking the fossil fuel industry to slowly repurpose itself towards developing sustainable fuels and this isn’t going to happen overnight, it will happen in an incremental way. That’s why we have got to work very closely with those industries, because we can’t impose on them a recommendation that they change overnight.”
Stein added that that gas turbine engines were likely to be a feature of aviation for the next half decade: “We’ve not given up on the gas turbine - far from it,” he said. “Our Ultrafan engine fuel will take us on another 10 per cent in fuel efficiency and also 3Dbs down on noise compared with today’s engines. We still need aerodynamics experts, we still need people who understand the thermomechanical nature of these hugely complex products because we will be flying with gas turbines for the next 40 or 50 years.”
World speed record attempt
Stein said a “new world” of propulsive technology was being opened up through electric vehicles and trains, digitalisation and high level data analytics. Rolls-Royce has already announced a deal with Siemens to work on the company’s electric engine.
Stein said across the industry, companies were working on concept and prototype electric-powered aircraft. Rolls-Royce is set to fly the demonstrator of the E Fan X jointly with Airbus, the world first multi megawatt class in 2021. The manufacturer is also set to take on the world speed record for electric flight with Gloucester-based Electroflight in the first quarter of 2020 with a flight along with north Wales coast.
Stein added development of electric systems would be dependent on industry demand. In terms of impact on powering passenger aircraft, he said the technology would not be mature enough until the mid-2030s for the wide body market, although it could have an impact on the regional market by the late 2020s. He added operators of smaller fleets may be able to move quicker once they had passed regulatory and safety hurdles.