The aircraft industry should be wary of allowing politicians and rule makers with their own agenda’s decide how the future generation of commercial aircraft should look like. It should be the industry itself that decides on this, based on the level of maturity of new technologies in both engine and airframe design.

That view was shared by Air Lease Corporation (ALC)-boss Steven Udvar-Hazy and Emirates President Sir Tim Clark during a webinar on future commercial aircraft on July 22. The Farnborough International Airshow Connect webinar was chaired by FlightGlobal’s Kingsley-Jones also included Embraer’s new CEO Arjan Meijer.

“We have got to take the bureaucrats and the politicians out of the design parameters of the design of the next generation of aircraft. We can’t have those individuals that don’t have an understanding of what the capabilities and limitations of an aircraft design dictate how aircraft are going to be designed and operated in the future”, Udvar-Hazy said. “Otherwise we are going to have catastrophic results on the industry and its impact on global commerce trade, GDP. We have got to get the smart people together and come up with a path forward on how to attack these issues. Let’s solve the environmental issues, but do it in a smart and practical way rather than arbitrary statistical limitations that may not be able to be met by the airlines.”

New set of regulations from the EPA
Udvar-Hazy recalled that the influence of environmental regulators on future aircraft designs is growing. “There has been a turning point in the last 48 hours. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is coming up with a whole new set of regulations. This is unprecedented. It has primarily been a European arena to the sensitivity of noise and emissions but now, as predicted, it is migrating to the US and then others will follow. I think this is one of the reasons an OEM has to be extremely careful about launching a new airplane design. You don’t want to design an airplane in 2021-2022 that ten years from now will not meet the environmental landscape in terms of the regulatory framework of that time.”

EPA released a notice of proposed rulemaking today that should align US rulemaking with that of other countries and that of ICAO adopted back in 2017, actually forcing them to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by four percent before 2030. The rule is set to apply to all US manufactured new aircraft designs for which an application for certification is submitted after January 2020 (or January 2023 for aircraft with 19 seats or less or over 60 tons of maximum take-off weight). In-production standards would apply to aircraft covered from January, 2028. The proposal has already been met by critical environmentalist groups, which say EPA has just followed existing rules instead of enforcing new and stricter rules.

In a media release, Boeing welcomed the new draft: “The EPA’s CO2 standard for aircraft is a major step forward for protecting the environment and supporting sustainable growth of commercial aviation and the United States economy.  Aircraft operators need certainty that their new airplanes will be to the International Civil Aviation Organization CO2 requirements.”

Public and political debate has changed the environmental landscape
The environmental landscape Udvar-Hazy is referring to has been influenced recently by the growing debate about flying and how the sector contributes to solving the environmental issues that confront the world. Especially in some European countries, pro-environmental parties and groups have questioned state aid to airlines without any conditions on how they should improve their environmental footprint towards 2050, when the Paris agreement calls for a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. The EUR 7 billion state aid program from the French government includes the objective to design a zero-carbon successor of the should be available in 2035.

Udvar-Hazy made it clear he is worried about what he called “the green impact in politics”. “There is just way too many people out there that portray the aviation as a polluter. We are an easy and visible victim. We have to be mindful of this regulatory trend for high degree of regulation and ultimately taxation of an industry that is perceived to be polluting the earth. We need to extremely mindful of what airplanes are designed and whether they use carbon fuels of are we going to begin transitioning particularly in the short-haul sphere to aircraft that are less dependent on carbon fuels.”

Clark doubts another step-change in engine propulsion
Sir Tim Clark doesn’t believe that in engine propulsion there will be another step-change with double-digit fuel savings as has been seen recently with the introduction of Pratt & Whitney’s Geared Turbofan of CFM’s LEAP, except for the Rolls-Royce Ultrafan that still needs to begin testing. He isn’t a big fan of electric propulsion as it won’t be able to do the job his A380s are doing.
Clark rather prefers a different approach: “If you are going to use sustainable fuels to generate electricity, if you are going to do a lot of carbon capture you are starting to eliminate the carbon from the atmosphere, using far more measurable and realistic, proven technology than going after the airline community, which is going at its wits ends on how we are going to need the demand.”

Clark sees a role for the industry to educate both the general public and legislators about what new technologies are realistic in future aircraft design. “I don’t think we are linking the dots with a lot of them (the legislators). The political agendas are so great it gives us great difficulty to be listened to. The approach would be to create a global council from all disciplines and bring all their work into  can get from others.”

All panelists agreed that as a result of Covid-19 the airline and airframe industry currently aren’t in any position to decide on new aircraft programs. “We have got to get through this before we invest”, Embraer’s Meijer said.

The full webinar can be viewed on-demand on https://connect.farnboroughairshow.com/ .

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