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"Airport 2030": HAW Hamburg and Airbus present aircraft study

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How can the efficiency of a medium-haul aircraft be significantly improved even further, without changing the infrastructure on the ground? Hamburg University of Applied Sciences and Airbus tackled this question in the Leading Edge Cluster project, "Airport 2030".

The so-called "flagship" category "Airport 2030" bundles various research and development projects of Hamburg partners related to the theme of "the air transportation system of the future". One of these projects is the conceptual study of a short and medium-haul aircraft which could use existing airport infrastructure at the same time as significantly improving on the efficiency of current aircraft models.

The project partners, the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences (HAW Hamburg) and Airbus, have three concepts to show at the end of the research period: two so-called box-wing aircraft and one turboprop.

"Success in this project meant looking at an aircraft by adopting a holistic approach. Key to this approach is the aircraft design, responsible for the positioning of wings, fuselage and empennage while integrating new technologies in the areas of aerodynamics, materials, or engines all contributing to fuel reduction," explains Prof. Dr.  Dieter Scholz from HAW Hamburg.

Smart Turboprop: 36% less kerosene than an A320

The project engineers' preferred solution, the "Smart Turboprop", achieves 17% lower operating costs and 36% less fuel consumption than a conventional Airbus A320. In comparison, current calculations show that the A320neo achieves 8% lower operating costs and 15% less fuel consumption.

At the beginning of the project, the participants focussed primarily on box-wing aircraft, a configuration with two vertically staggered wings linked at the ends (the two aircraft at the left and right of the picture). Ultimately, however, the advantages associated with this concept, resulting from reduced drag, were not sufficient to justify the increased wing weight which the structure demands.

"In the future, higher fuel prices alone will be enough to force aircraft to change"

The research team therefore returned its focus to optimisation potential for the "classic configuration". The resultant "Smart Turboprop" concept does not match the altitude and speed of current Airbus jets, but its efficiency is persuasive. "Aircraft designed for the future look different for the simple reason that fuel prices in the future will be significantly higher than they were in the past," says Prof. Scholz, explaining the decision to adopt a propeller-based design.

Wingspan of medium-haul aircraft restricted to 36 meters

A further obstacle for increased efficiency is the restriction in the wingspan for medium-haul aircraft to a maximum of 36 meters. This restriction is imposed by the configuration of most airports. As a result, wings on aircraft in this size category are increasingly being stretched "upwards" in the form of winglets in order to increase efficiency. A horizontal extension, however, would be more effective.

Whether or not the medium-haul turboprop will one day give the Airbus jet its marching orders remains to be seen. The competitor, Boeing, however, is already planning folding wingtips for future incarnations of its 777 aircraft family. Folding wingtips were also part of the HAW research. Who knows whether a medium-haul Airbus will one day leave the manufacturing hangars in Finkenwerder with this technology? The findings of the Leading Edge Cluster project "Airport 2030" have at least brought the answer to this question significantly closer.