2015-11-27_7-59-11The civil aviation world, always looking for ideas to save time and money, may be launching the era of the plane “container”. The patent office of the United States approved, after two years of painstaking tests, an Airbus project for the launch of a new disassembled and dismantled jet like the with which children play.

The idea, for now futuristic, is simple: build a means able to divide the aircraft into two. On the one hand the cockpit, engine, wings, rudder and cart, the other (above to be precise) a sort of container detachable from the main body. Passengers and luggage could thus be embarked on this nacelle container on the ground, well before the arrival of the flight.

The placement would work then like a pit stop in Formula 1: after landing, the plane slips under a crane to remove the arriving passenger container, depositing them gently into the terminal to complete landing.

The crane then deposits, with pinpoint accuracy, a replacement container with departing passengers . Then the Airbus can start its next immediately, in much shorter times than the 45-60 minutes required on average for the same operation today.

The advantage is clear: aircraft in a transit average of 40 minutes on routes of 500 miles (slightly less than the distance between Rome and Paris) can make 2,304 flights per year. Reduce the transit by just 10 minutes and the number of possible rises to 2,491, 8.1% more.

Boeing estimates that by reducing transit time by 20% the the cost for the management of a jet drops by 5%.  The value for an industry where profit margins are often cut to the bone and where for every single passenger flown in a year of plenty like 2015, as estimated by IATA, airlines earn only $8.27.

The takeoff of the first Airbus “container” plane is, of course, still far away in time. The challenges for an industrial launch are many. The first, obviously, it is that it requires restructured airports around the world to adapt. The second is that such a path to a new model from design to the assembly line takes about a decade and cost billions of dollars. And the green light to production comes only when you are sure that the product has a market. But the die is cast.

Fabio Gigante

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