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AeroTech Sends Off Attendees with Mission to Embrace Trial and Error to Advance Industry

Posted: March 17, 2022

You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, as the old adage goes. And you can’t find the solutions to tomorrow’s aviation challenges without taking some chances today.

During the third and final day of SAE International’s AeroTech, keynote speakers highlighted a focus on the future and the need for experimentation to get there.

“We need to be unafraid of failures. At this very early stage…we need to be open minded,” said Sandra Bour-Schaeffer, CEO of Airbus UpNext as she discussed the sustainability projects the start-up wing of Airbus is taking on. “Some of the technologies we identify might turn out that they are not a good path, but that is equally important as the ones that are viable paths for the future. We have to test these new opportunities and new collaborations, and see where that brings us.”

For Airbus UpNext, those projects include recently sustainability endeavors like the fello’fly program, taking a page from the playbook of migrating geese by testing the ability of companion flights to allow one plane to follow in the path of another. In a test from Toulouse, France, to Montreal, Canada, the company found a fuel reduction of 5% that could potentially be effective in mass reduction of fuel use and emissions as future flight paths for transatlantic flights are planned out.

At Ampaire, similar testing different types of aircrafts with a focus on regional vehicles that can help significantly reduce fuel use and emissions by using electric and hybrid engines. Electric engines, as defined by SAE International, convert electrical energy into rotational motion that turns the front propellers. A recent test using a completely electric engine allowed a plan to travel 418 miles in the UK.

The decision to look into electric solutions comes as current sustainable aviation fuels and fueling stations are not enough to reach the industry’s sustainability goals.

“Right now, the demand is much, much higher than the supply. The consistent suppliers you can count with one hand—4 to 5 suppliers, and this is for hundreds of thousands of airplanes that need to fly around the world. And this is at 5 airports around the world—2 in Norway, 1 in Sweden, 1 in the U.S., and 1 in Australia,” said Susan Ying, Senior Vice President at Ampaire and SAE Board of Directors Vice President of Aerospace. “In business as usual, we can only accommodate 5-10% of the goal by 2050, and that is just not acceptable. So we really do need other solutions.”

As industry moves forward, it’s also important to keep in mind where its been. With its more than 100 year history as a leader in aerospace, Boeing is keenly aware of the challenges that come with industry as it ages.

“Boeing is over 100 years old, and it’s got the processes and specifications that have built up over 100 years. But as it grows and is precedence-based, its complexity grows in its precedence base,” said Jason Clark, Vice President, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Fabrication and Supply Chain Engineering.  “We have to consider that property has blended in things we once considered very proprietary. At a certain point in time, the competition of the production system will be not there. The technologies will be relatively the same. If you look to automotive as a guide, you see that same thing.”

Ying also referenced the automotive industry, noting that the work in the sector with electric vehicles has allowed for faster movement in aerospace as this sector looks to adopt similar technology.

But no matter the focus for the path, its one that must be traveled together.

“What we have got to make sure is that we’re putting in place the things that allow this great industry of ours to thrive, making sure we are in that continuous improvement mode while maintaining the performance mode we need for our customers,” Clark said. “This is a global industry. We cannot do this without having a diverse industry workforce spread across the planet.”