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Stunted Development

Special Report - And Now for Something Completely Different

New aircraft designs are in development but many argue a paradigm shift is needed sooner rather than later if aviation is to meet its environmental goals and move into a sustainable, profitable future

Manufacturers seem reluctant, however. Boeing is concentrating on the next derivative of the 747, for example, while Airbus will have the A320neo. The basic design of these aircraft is decades old.

But both manufacturers understand the difficulty of bringing a new model to market following problems with the Boeing 787 and Airbus A380.

According to Dr. Fassi Kafyeke, Director, Strategic Technologies, Bombardier Aerospace, manufacturers employ various techniques to mitigate the risk involved in new products, but the variables are considerable. “Bombardier’s Aircraft Portfolio Strategy Board (APSB) looks at multiple product development scenarios,” he says.

“The APSB reviews the product portfolio in order to optimize human and financial resources, and also to evaluate the overall risk associated with specific scenarios.” Invariably, it seems too much risk is attached to a radical design—especially in the present economic climate. Unfortunately for manufacturers in a competitive market, a company has to develop new lines. “The global economic situation is one more reason to improve the efficiency of our aircraft,” says Mauro Kern, Executive Vice President, New Programs, Airline Market, Embraer.

“Any new aircraft design will have to balance adequate performance and new technologies improvements with the right economics, because those are the big variables in airlines’ decisions.”

The number of new aircraft on order shows the importance of operational efficiency gains. But many still voice concerns over incremental improvements as opposed to major innovation. Re-engining has become a key phrase and minor airframe modifications a common sight.

History suggests that this will change sooner or later, however. From the first jet to the likes of the Boeing 747, paradigm shifts have become part and parcel of the aviation industry.

Turboprops Ride Again

With the environment and fuel efficiency continuing to dominate industry thinking, the benefits of turboprops have become a hot topic once again.

Designed for short-haul routes, turboprops are more fuel efficient than similar‑sized jets and generate a smaller carbon footprint. Critically, new generation turboprops also produce a smaller noise footprint above and around the airport.

Of the 6,100 regional aircraft forecast by Bombardier to be delivered in the next 10 years, 2,400 will be turboprops, representing 39% of the total of 20–99 seat deliveries

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