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By Andy Pasztor
Highlighting Europe's increasing focus on cutting aircraft emissions, plane maker Airbus SE has unveiled a demonstration project focused on a novel environmental concept adapted from the way birds and bicycle racers save energy.
Airbus envisions flying two jetliners on long overwater routes in extra-close formation -- with minimal vertical separation -- so that the trailing aircraft could benefit from the updraft and smooth air generated by the one it is following. Much the way flocks of birds use such techniques to conserve energy by coasting behind a lead bird, Airbus envisions the second jet would be able to reduce power, potentially reducing its fuel burn up to 10%.
In a recent press release, Airbus said it hopes to reduce carbon emissions by partnering with airlines and air-traffic controllers "to identify the operational needs and suitable solutions" for implementing this type of formation flying.
For European airlines and regulators alike, environmental concerns are growing in importance. The experiment Airbus has sketched out is the company's latest effort to seek to demonstrate leadership in that arena. Officials at the European Union Aviation Safety Agency have talked about potential future moves to rank carriers on environmental accomplishments.
Air-traffic controllers, who have embraced new technologies such as more-precise satellite tracking of jetliners across the North Atlantic, would have to endorse the Airbus concept, dubbed "fello'fly." Controllers already are instituting procedures on some trans-Atlantic routes intended to reduce fuel consumption by giving pilots greater flexibility to adjust predetermined courses in response to headwinds and storms.
But the tandem flying proposed by Airbus presumably would apply to an array of weather and weight conditions. The company, which said it hopes to start testing next year, also aims to develop enhanced cockpit automation permitting planes to cruise dramatically closer to each other. It is likely to take years for carriers to routinely rely on such flights and cockpit features.
The proposal would promote the plane maker's broader goals of improving global air safety through additional automated safeguards and application of artificial intelligence.
The move comes as plane manufacturers, avionics suppliers, regulators and international standard-setting organizations are all working on systems to enable introduction of autonomous aircraft, from small package-delivery drones and urban air taxis to larger cargo planes.
Write to Andy Pasztor at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 23, 2019 23:03 ET (04:03 GMT)
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