Technological Innovation In Air Transport

No, this is not science fiction, it is the world that is already being built. (…) 2050 promises to be a time of prosperity, as were the “golden years” of the 20th century.

There is a broad consensus among experts that future technological innovations will make it possible to reduce costs, increase speed, mitigate environmental impact, expand capacity and introduce greater flexibility in the product of airline companies.

However, participants in the discussion on the impact of technological evolution on air transport, promoted by IATA and which gave rise to the Vision 2050  report already mentioned here, had difficulty reaching agreement on the priority to give these future innovations.

The plane’s higher speed requires more power, which will lead to greater fuel consumption and therefore a negative impact on efforts to reduce costs and emissions. In addition, the benefits of faster flights may be reduced if the risk associated with these new aircraft is curbed by obsolete air traffic management systems.

The advantage of making airplanes capable of carrying more than 2,000 passengers has also sparked debate. Notwithstanding the advancement of telecommunications, people will continue to travel: some will want super-fast flights, others will want luxury cabins, and many will opt for cheap trips, in massive modes of transport. In this way, the needs of future consumers point not only to the expansion of capacity but also to the diversification of the offer. Air transport will then require flexibility to meet the wide variety of demand, so the focus will have to be on a radical change regarding the configuration of seats on planes.

This discussion reported in chapter 4 of  Vision 2050  was guided by Professor  Edward M. Greitzer , a recognized MIT Aeronautics and Aerospace scholar. Anticipating the future, based on what consumer needs will be in the various parts of the world, the working group focused on technological developments with an impact on the aviation industry for 40 years, as follows:

Aircraft configuration

Since the jet era, the airplane has been made up of a tube with wings. However, there are two new configurations taking shape:Technological Innovation In Air Transport

Double bubble ( image from NASA / MIT)

” Double bubble ” – a fuselage with a central cut, so called because it is basically composed of two tubes placed side by side. Being shorter and wider it can operate on shorter tracks; passenger boarding and disembarking are also faster. Because it is 10% slower than the current Boeing 737, it allows the use of lighter materials and, therefore, more efficient.Technological Innovation In Air Transport

Blended wing body (image from NASA )

“ Blended wing body ” – an airplane with a triangular wing-shaped body, combining advanced composite technology with highly efficient wings. Initially intended for cargo transportation, this aircraft is for large-scale transportation (over 400 passengers and cargo) and long-range transportation (at least 7,000 nautical miles).

Both of these configurations have engines that allow substantial fuel reductions, due to their ability to ingest and energize the air in motion next to the fuselage. The double-bubble has three engines below the fuselage between vertical tails that act as sound protection. The “blended (or hybrid) wing body” has the engines incorporated in the rear of the fuselage.

Surface contours, coatings and flow control devices have aerodynamic properties that reduce friction. The new materials used integrate electronics capable of monitoring your health status, anticipating maintenance needs in advance. The traditional hydraulic / pneumatic ones are replaced by electromechanical equipment.

Supersonic planes will also be used for private missions, such as for executives whose priority is speed, but not in the configurations mentioned above.

EnginesTechnological Innovation In Air Transport

Open rotor (Rolls-Royce)

In 2050, fuel consumption will have been reduced by 30% compared to 2010. In engines, high-performance ceramics will be used and improvements in the design of flows will be introduced, including the high efficiency of components related to the increase in flow rates. air for the fans ( fan bypass ratio ) and the enormous decrease in friction. The wing engine time will be comparable to that of the aircraft’s service life, through greater reliability. Modular construction will facilitate maintenance and reduce upgrade costs . Speed reducers for the fans ( geared turbofan ) will be much used, as well as rotors outside the reactor cell ( open rotor designs). Efficiency gains will drive operators to renew their fleets more often, looking for the latest technology. This will lead to an aircraft recycling industry that will reduce total production costs while overcoming shortages of some materials, such as titanium.

Materials and systems

Nanotechnology will revolutionize materials, optimizing structures that will be half the weight. No windows are needed, thanks to transparent structures that will allow open skies in the cockpit and passenger areas, with reduced weight and cost and allowing a 360 degree view. The planes will be self-assisted, eliminating most ground equipment.

Plant fiber products will be used to reduce weight and increase the possibility of recycling. The interiors of the cabins will be ultralight and self-refreshing so that they always look new, thanks to nanotechnology. Such technologies are also applied to ovens, garbage compactors, toilets and water pipes.

Airplanes will rarely have in-flight entertainment systems; passengers will have their own devices that will interface securely with the aircraft’s data system, which acts as a portal to the data cloud of the 2050s. Automation of the cockpit and optimization systems will allow the pilot to act as the flight manager most of the time.


Nitrogen oxides will have reduced by around 75% from 2010 onwards. Carbon dioxide will have decreased in proportion to improvements in fuel efficiency. The carbon monoxide emission will practically disappear. Instead of being treated as a supplement, noise control technology will be integrated into the aircraft design phase. As a result of these advances, we will have planes that are quieter than the traffic of roads and railways around airports. Through special noise mitigation, it will be possible to implement an active control in order to create quiet areas. However, there will be growing concern about a new type of pollution: “visual pollution” that results from the growing number of aircraft in operation.


Oil reserves will be less accessible, not only from a technical but also from a political point of view. Fortunately, there will be plenty of synthetic fuel to be used by all modes of transport. The use of biofuels in commercial aviation will reach a proportion of 80%, while kerosene will be slowly going out of circulation. A key factor in the use of biofuels will be the emphasis on the benefits of the carbon life cycle. Combining this with more efficient airplanes and engines, CO2 emissions are expected to be reduced, in the global aviation sector, to less than half of the levels prior to 2005, despite the huge increase in traffic. The call for “ethical consumption” will make carbon offsetting the norm for passengers, as in other aspects of their lives.

Some aircraft systems will be partially powered by solar energy. Most batteries and generators will be replaced by cells that will use hydrogen, in addition to oxygen from the atmosphere, in order to produce electricity. Tests will be common in order to see how nanotechnology can be used in the design and manufacture of a new generation of solar cells and batteries, which will be even more efficient.

Air Traffic ControlTechnological Innovation In Air Transport

Air traffic management program (ESA)

The shift from traditional ground-based systems to a satellite information network has provided a shared view of situations between pilots and air traffic controllers, allowing for more precise control and also greater flexibility. This not only relieves the work of the controllers, but also increases the airspace capacity, by reducing separation minima and allowing more direct routes. Advances in automation already allow planes without pilots, the so-called Unmaned Aerial Vehicle (UAV ), currently in use only for cargo operations.

Developments in the sharing of information, which have made it possible to reduce the separation margins between flights and even fly in formation like birds do, are also generating energy savings. Another related benefit is the increase in runway capacity, through innovative procedures to reduce the effects of vortexes on the next plane. Also the tendency to use secondary airports, easing the burden on primary airports, will translate into an increase in multi-airport systems serving the same metropolitan area.

Air transport related areas

The technologies applied to the security processes against illicit acts to passengers and luggage will not only be more efficient, but less visible. The goal will be to have no disruption to the passenger’s path at the airport, except when these technologies reveal the need for tighter inspection.

The technology will also be applied to passengers and their luggage. Tablets and similar devices will allow passengers to accompany each step of their luggage during the trip, virtually eliminating losses. With the emergence of a new business model from the second decade onwards, companies will provide a nightly door-to-door baggage collection and delivery service at an extremely low price, minimizing the hassle for passengers and making the process at the airport more efficient. However, the same tablets and the like will allow carriers, airports and security officers to know the whereabouts of the passengers themselves, in order to ensure that they do not inadvertently miss flights.

No, this is not science fiction, it is the world that is already being built. Technology is revolutionizing the way people live. Access to information in real time and anywhere on the planet is a realistic expectation. It is expected that, after a turbulent period related to ethnic, religious tensions, beliefs and natural resources, from 2030 there will be more stability. Such stability combined with technological advancement will lead to economic development, more equitably between different parts of the world. 2050 promises to be a time of prosperity, as were the “golden years” of the 20th century.

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