The history of Aerospace is one with many ups and downs. Since the first commercial flight took place in 1914, from St. Petersburg to Tampa, the demand for airplanes has grown exponentially. Throughout the past century, there has been many factors which have shaped the industry of today. Changes in consumer needs and the desire to see more of the world, led to an industry booming over a matter of decades. The vast amount of investment in developing new technology, contributed towards further growth, and ultimately revolutionized global travel.
Since 2009, the global aviation industry has increased at a compound annual growth rate of around 5.3%. In 2019 the industry was valued at around USD 839 billion, which gives an understanding of the sheer size of the market. There have been many disruptions over the years which have affected the growth pattern, such as terrorism, recessions, pandemics and other significant events. However, without fail, it has always bounced back within a short period and continued a steady growth trend.
Increasing pressure to tackle climate change, results in the industry being made accountable
Over the past few years there has been an increase in global climate awareness, with significant pressure being placed on businesses to improve their carbon footprint. Many environmental groups have raised awareness by campaigning against industries that contribute large CO2 output. One such industry that has been under scrutiny is aviation. It has continued to face backslash from the media and has been a key focus in many environmental protests. Whilst aviation plays a role in increased CO2 levels globally, it only attributes to around 2% of all human-induced CO2 emissions. Furthermore, it is responsible for only 12% of all transport emissions, compared to road transport at 74%.
In the UK, and around the world, governments have introduced legislation and measures to help reverse climate change. This has led to many industries being set targets to achieve either substantially lowered or zero emissions by set dates. The aerospace industry in the UK, has been tasked with achieving zero emissions by 2050. As a result, in July this year, the Aerospace Technology Institute alongside the UK Government launched an ambitious new program to develop a zero-emission commercial aircraft by 2030 called ‘FlyZero’.
Aircraft efficiency becoming more important than ever
A key factor in aircraft efficiency has always been to maintain weight as low as possible. This continues to be a theme going forward, in order to further improve fuel efficiency. During the past decade, one material which has caught many scientists’ attention is graphene. Studies have found that graphene has the strongest and lightest properties of any material known to man. The application of graphene has been already used in the skin of plane wings, but the potential scope for this material goes further. If mass production can be made commercially viable, planes could reduce weight whilst maintaining its rigid structure; ultimately improving on the power to weight ratio resulting in lower fuel consumption. Another useful property is its electrical conductivity, which in aircrafts is important in preventing lightning strikes. Further research into graphene’s conductivity provides a promising role in an aircraft’s thermoelectric ice protection system. The current widely used practice consists of spraying chemicals all over a plane. This potential new system could therefore be beneficial, both, economically and environmentally.
Research into cleaner fuel alternatives continues
The use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) has long been adopted as a core strategy for improving air and fuel efficiency, whilst also reducing carbon emissions. SAF offers a cleaner substitute to traditional fossil jet fuels, originating from either feedstock such as waste oils from a biological origin, argro-residues or non-fossil fuel. Whilst an extensive list of biofuels have been used over the years, no SAF has managed to achieve zero emissions whilst also being as effective as conventional jet fuel. Recently there has been a great deal of coverage, and indeed traction, with the use of hydrogen as the sole source to power an aircraft. Hydrogen combustion produces zero carbon emissions, whilst also offering similar performance potential to that of traditional jet fuel. Both Airbus and Boeing have shown interest in the adoption of hydrogen, with the former recently releasing news of three new aircraft concepts ‘ZEROe’. This September the team at ‘ZeroAvia’ managed to successfully fly the first commercial hydrogen powered aircraft, which marks a historic moment for aviation.
The future looks bright for electric propulsion
Another promising innovation which is gaining a great deal of media coverage, is the all-electric propulsion aircraft. Since its initial concept, through to the first recorded flight last year, the technology has come a long away. Many large corporations have decided to invest vast funding into developing this technology, one such business is Rolls Royce (RR). This past September, the company successfully trialled ground-testing for its first electric plane. RR believe it has the potential to reach speeds of over 300mph which, if achieved, would set a new world record. Whilst the current technology is very encouraging, the reality of widespread commercial availability is far from close. For medium to long haul flights, it is estimated to be ready around 2045.
When considering all the current pressures affecting the aerospace industry today, it is important to remember how far the industry has come. There have been many hurdles that it has had to overcome over the years, which has proven just how resilient and resourceful the industry can be. For the future of the industry to continue growing, it will require both evolutionary and revolutionary new technology to be developed. The innovations and technologies being highlighted in this blog, show a small snapshot of the impressive developments being achieved in the industry today. A continued effort in developing new technology will be an important factor when sustaining the economic and environmental future of the industry.
Supporting our customers’ goals
ENL is an accredited AS9100D supplier, we support many tier 1 aerospace customers help achieve their goals in developing new technology. We manufacture a range of high-performance material grades, which are highly innovative and focus on improving efficiency and strength in aircrafts. An example of some of these materials include: Carbon Filled PEEK, Glass Filled Peek, Torlon and Graphene Additive.