The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the European aviation sector particularly hard. Almost 90% of Europe’s flights were grounded from March to May, and today that figure stands at 62%. The entire aviation sector will continue to face significant challenges in the years to come. However, difficult times present us with new opportunities.
Axel Krein is the Executive Director of Clean Sky 2 Joint Undertaking.
Satellite images of pollution-free skies following the March lockdowns revealed the benefits that clean, emission-free air travel could bring in the future, though obviously not at the cost of the mass economic disruption and job losses caused by the pandemic.
There is a window of opportunity for us to rebuild the aviation sector in a sustainable way, as part of the EU’s Green Recovery and in line with the European Green Deal.
Clean Sky has been working towards sustainable aviation for the past 12 years, pushing the boundaries in aerospace engineering to develop technologies for new aircraft configurations, new engines, and new structures and systems, which will be a solid foundation for making climate-neutral flight a reality.
Engines are at the heart of any aircraft, and Clean Sky’s Tech TP engine demonstrator project is working to develop a 100% European-built, sustainable, low-fuel and low-noise engine for use on general aviation and smaller commuter sized aircraft (up to 19 passengers).
The UltraFan is a technology demonstrator for the next generation of environmentally-friendly gas turbines for large commercial aircraft. By putting a power gearbox between the fan and the rear stages of the turbine, the big fan runs more slowly, thereby improving propulsion efficiency. A major challenge here has been to optimise the nacelle (engine enclosure) architecture, to minimise aircraft drag.
Once an eco-friendly engine has been built, it must be tested to see how it fits with other aircraft components and how the overall environmental impact of the aircraft is evaluated. The SA2FIR project is a test rig simulator, which enables engineers to optimise the integration of new engine types. Small and large diameter fans can be fitted, and the test rig is equipped with an array of steady and unsteady sensors for measuring all relevant parameters. SA2FIR will enable engineers to learn more about physical phenomena such as acoustics and aerodynamics so that new, green engine types can be designed to maximise fuel burn and noise reduction.
The Dragon concept aims to reduce fuel consumption using distributed electric propulsion, making it possible to fit smaller engines in a variety of positions on the aircraft to significantly optimise efficiency.
The greatest challenge for green rotorcraft designers is to increase speed and payload while simultaneously reducing fuel burn and improving the vehicle’s range. Clean Sky is taking that challenge one-step further, by developing two unique rotorcraft designs that can take-off and land vertically without the need for extended airport infrastructure.
RACER combines an innovative wing-box design with lighter structures and improved power management efficiency, while NextGenCTR features a fixed-engine, split gearbox drivetrain concept, with an advanced flight control system, efficient nacelle architecture, advanced wing architecture and optimised tail configuration.
All of these technologies and more can be viewed on our online stand, which showcases some of Clean Sky’s key results and works in progress, along with interviews from our experts. The stand will demonstrate how these innovations contribute to Clean Sky’s objectives of reduced CO2, NOX and noise emissions.
Although the vast majority of our projects have continued, COVID-19 Europe-wide lockdowns have had an impact on our progress. However, despite delays, more than 80% of Clean Sky’s key demonstrators will deliver their objectives by the end of the programme as planned. The remaining projects have been reduced in scope or realigned, in order to deliver key research results by the programme’s end.
We currently predict a delay of approximately four months in the implementation of our programme. Naturally, we are continuing to monitor this situation very closely, defining mitigation measures and making updates as needed to ensure the utmost support for all our stakeholders.
Clean Sky is more determined than ever to make climate-neutral aviation a reality, in close alignment with the European Commission and in support of the European Green Deal and the economic recovery ahead.
Investing in clean technologies and cutting-edge research will accelerate the EU’s green agenda and drive the aerospace sector towards environmentally-friendly alternative solutions. Clean Sky is proud to be a part of this journey and we look forward to what the future brings!