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Airbus proposes blended wing body planes that reduce fuel consumption by 20 percent

But would you want to sit in a plane with no windows?

We have been saying for years that flying is dying, and have watched as Flygskam has become a thing, but if you read the Airbus press releases, they plan to keep flying for a long time, whether with so-called sustainable aviation fuel, greater fuel efficiency or electric engines.

Over the years they have been making their planes lighter and and have improved fuel efficiency by 2.1 percent per year between 2009 and 2020, almost getting to the fuel per passenger mile burned by a Lockheed Constellation from the 1950s.

Now Airbus is proposing a “blended wing body” (BWB) design that could reduce fuel consumption by 20 percent. They have built a working model called the MAVERIC, and do not say when a full-size version will be airborne. The designs are more efficient because the plane’s entire fuselage provides lift, not just the wings, and there should also be reduced drag.

The spacious configuration also opens up the design space, enabling the possible integration of various other types of propulsion systems. In addition, noise is expected to be significantly reduced thanks to a “shielded” engine that is mounted above the central body.

Maveric cabin interior© Airbus Maveric

I am not convinced by the interior, so many seats across! This is truly an air bus. At least you won’t be fighting for a window seat, there aren’t any windows.

And, if commercialised, a MAVERIC-inspired aircraft could significantly improve the passenger experience. A blended wing body design provides an exceptionally comfortable cabin layout, enabling passengers to benefit from additional legroom and larger aisles for more personal comfort.

Airbus Maveric interior© Airbus Maveric

Eric Adams writes in Wired that blended-wing body designs are proven (the B2 bomber has been flying for 30 years), but building a commercial aircraft is not going to be easy.

The plane’s structure, with a larger interior, would need to accommodate different pressurization requirements, says University of Toronto aerodynamics researcher Thomas Reist. The trick will be making the plane strong enough to do that without adding weight and reducing efficiency. Stability is also an issue. “Without the horizontal and vertical tails that tube-and-wing aircraft have, maintaining a stable and controllable aircraft is much more challenging,” Reist says. The B-2 is notoriously difficult to fly, requiring constant computerized stabilization to keep it safely in the air. That’s why Airbus says controllability is the primary interest area for the Maveric program.

Airbus Maveric interior© Airbus Maveric

But Airbus’s VP of engineering thinks these problems can be beaten, which is why they have revived the idea of a BWB. Engineering VP Jean-Brice Dumont tells Aviation News:

“What makes us wish to revive the BWB now? Some technologies have improved; we can make the aircraft lighter and our flight controls and computing capabilities are one level higher. That means we can face the challenges at least a level higher than before….The pressure we are under and the fact we need to disrupt to reach emissions objectives in 2050 forces us to drive down avenues we wouldn’t have gone down earlier. That’s because the equation was not resolvable and now we believe it is.

A 20-percent increase in fuel efficiency won’t cut it in 2050, but they are also looking at electric motors. As Dumont concludes, “We need to come with disruptive options and enter service at the earliest possible date to bring benefits by 2050. The clock is ticking.” We concur.

Airbus proposes blended wing body planes that reduce fuel consumption by 20 percent

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City declares climate emergency, actually means it and does something

Bristol’s airport expansion gets cancelled in a shocking act of doing something meaningful to go carbon neutral.

The local North Somerset Council in the UK has just rejected the expansion of Bristol Airport on environmental grounds. According to Bristol Live, local Councillor Steve Hogg explained (my emphasis),

We must weigh the benefits – which flow towards the airport, its shareholders, pension funds and those seeking a cheap holiday in the Med – against the unbearable burdens that will fall on the local community and the environment.”

North Somerset Council joined many other authorities in declaring a climate emergency last year. Challenging the officers’ suggestion local authorities have little control over emissions linked to aviation, Cllr Hogg said: “We have direct control over the future emissions – we do that by turning down this application.”

Cllr John Ley-Morgan seconded the proposal, saying: “How can we achieve our ambition for carbon neutrality by 2030 if we approve this decision?”

TreeHugger has mocked these declarations of climate emergency before; 1,385 jurisdictions have signed them, apparently covering 825 million people. When Mayor Tory of Toronto announced it, we all wondered if he would actually do anything, like cancel the rebuild of the elevated expressway or actually build some bike lanes. Of course not; it’s cars before climate. North Somerset has actually done something to address the climate emergency and their deadline, instead of being hypocrites.

It also raises the point that we have covered before, asking recently, Is it a new era, where architects should be held to account for the environmental impact of their work? Many offices have signed on to Architects Declare, yet they keep designing airports, treating their declarations like most cities treat their climate emergencies.

Quoted in the Architects Journal, TreeHugger regular Elrond Burrell believes the profession needs to “show moral leadership in the climate emergency and openly reject such appointments.”

‘Architects claim to be influential or complain that we are no longer influential,’ he says. ‘Which is it? The big names clearly could be influential; imagine the headline “Foster turns down a major airport commission.” It would certainly make the client have a second thought, especially if all the Architects Declare signatories took a stand and said no more airports.’

Burrell adds that positive, vocal action would also show that it was ‘possible to be a successful architect and have a moral backbone’.

In another AJ article, Michael Pawlyn and Steve Tompkins strongly challenged the usual justifications that architects use, including the dream that electric planes and biofuels will make flying carbon free, and that ‘If we don’t design new airports someone else will,’ and finally, ’People who oppose airports are hypocrites if they fly at all’ (that’s me).

The fault with the hypocrisy argument is the implication that unless someone is perfect, they don’t have a right to talk about how things could be better. The fact is that we have all contributed to the climate crisis and, somehow, we all need to work our way out of it. Adopting defensive positions in response to legitimate, constructive criticism is going to make that more difficult.

They concluded by pointing out that we have a problem right now, not in 2050.

So, what should architects and engineers conclude from this? In the crucial 10 years we have left to get on top of the crisis, electric planes will not save us. Neither will biofuels. We cannot expand air travel if we are serious about trying to stay within the ‘safe’ 1.5°C limit of global heating. Making airport buildings and ground transportation greener addresses less than 1 per cent of the problem.

So congratulations to the North Somerset Council. By cancelling the airport expansion, they actually followed through, they actually practiced what they preach. We could all learn from their example and recognize that It’s an emergency, and we have to act like it.

Bristol’s airport expansion gets cancelled in a shocking act of doing something meaningful to go carbon neutral.

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Court rules Heathrow expansion illegal, says climate crisis should have been considered

The political football that is the third runway gets kicked down again.

They have been fighting over the third runway since it was first proposed in 2003. When he was Mayor, Boris Johnson said he would “lie down in front of those bulldozers and stop the construction.” As we noted earlier, It has been a political football for years, with the last Conservative government scrapping it. However, British Prime Minister Theresa May brought it back in 2016, and activists immediately challenged it. And now they have won a huge victory; the plans for the runway have been ruled illegal by the Court of Appeal because “ministers did not adequately take into account the government’s commitments to tackle the climate crisis.”

third runway© Airports Commission via BBC

Damian Carrington of the Guardian explains the significance of the ruling:

The court’s ruling is the first major ruling in the world to be based on the Paris agreement and may have an impact both in the UK and around the globe by inspiring challenges against other high-carbon projects. Lord Justice Lindblom said: “The Paris agreement ought to have been taken into account by the secretary of state. The national planning statement was not produced as the law requires.”

The court challenge was led by a group called Plan B, but there were other challenges from the Mayor of London and environmental groups. Many think that the importance of it will be far reaching:

“For the first time, a court has confirmed that the Paris agreement temperature goal has binding effect. This goal was based on overwhelming evidence about the catastrophic risk of exceeding 1.5C of warming. Yet some have argued that the goal is aspirational only, leaving governments free to ignore it in practice.”

Prof Corinne Le Quéré, at the University of East Anglia, said: “Government needs to put climate targets at the heart all big decisions, or risk missing their own net zero objectives with devastating consequences for climate and stability. I am relieved this is finally recognised in law.”

Climate campaigner Greta Thunberg said: “Imagine when we all start taking the Paris agreement into account.”

The government says it is not appealing this decision, saying it is up to Heathrow, but it presents an interesting problem for a country that just pulled out of the European Union because it didn’t want Brussels telling it what to do. Now it has Paris telling it what to do.

Heathrow Statement on airport© Heathrow Statement on airport

Heathrow, going full Brexit with “let’s get Heathrow done”, is not taking this lying down. But having net zero emissions by 2050 is a fantasy, and as George Monbiot has noted,

The airline companies seek to divert us with a series of mumbo-jumbo jets, mythical technologies never destined for life beyond the press release. Solar passenger planes, blended wing bodies, hydrogen jets, algal oils, other biofuels: all are either technically impossible, commercially infeasible, worse than fossil fuels or capable of making scarcely a dent in emissions.

It is not a coincidence that my previous post was about how Oil investments are the new tobacco. There are probably going to be many more of them, about cancelled projects, bankrupted resource companies, massive divestment. You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.

Court rules Heathrow expansion illegal, says climate crisis should have been considered

The political football that is the third runway gets kicked down again.