The future of air mobility is in electric innovations. Airline companies save more money from the costly fuel-burning engines found in conventional aircraft, and most importantly, there’s lesser carbon footprint in the process. However, as electric technology in planes is under development, KLM Airlines is introducing an alternative in the meantime.
Airline travel accounts for 2.5% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Records also show that airline emissions have had a steady increase in the past decades — with a rapidly growing industry due to an exponentially growing population; we can expect the rise of carbon emission as more and more planes continue operations.
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines legally Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij N.V., is the flag carrier airline of the Netherlands — envisions a plane with its passenger seats placed within the wings and scrapping the cylindrical tube-shaped seating arrangement found in today’s aircraft.
“We’ve been flying these tube and wing airplanes for decades now, but it seems like the configuration is reaching a plateau in terms of energy efficiency,” TU Delft project leader Roelof Vos to CNN. “The new configuration that we propose realizes some synergy between the fuselage and the wing. The fuselage actively contributes to the lift of the airplane, and creates less aerodynamic drag.”
The idea came to KLM through Justus Benad, a former student at the Technical University of Berlin. Researchers at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, also known as TU Delft, is helping the airline company make Benad’s idea become a reality.
“In recent years, KLM has developed as a pioneer in sustainability within the airline industry,” Pieter Elbers, CEO, and president of KLM said in a statement. “We are proud of our progressive cooperative relationship with TU Delft, which ties in well with KLM’s strategy and serves as an important milestone for us on the road to scaling-up sustainable aviation.”
The basic idea is for the Airline company to introduce V-shaped planes up in the air for commercial use. The aircraft, which they call the Flying-V, is theoretically a fuel-efficient plane that’s set to perform better than Airbus’ fuel-efficient planes.
The Flying V would also coincide with plans that the Dutch aviation sector set in terms of sustainability, says Dr. Vos. The industry wants to decrease aviation CO2 emissions by 35% by the end of 2030.
Notably, the Flying-V claims to “consume 20% less fuel than the Airbus A350-900 while carrying a similar number of passengers,” CNN reports. The Flying-V will seat 314, while the Airbus A350 seats between 300 and 350. Moreover, Flying-V will resemble designs from the A350’s 65-meter (213 feet) wingspan. Current airport infrastructure — including gates, runways, and hangars — will accommodate the new plane design.
Also, the plane uses the most fuel-efficient turbofan engines that exist, according to KLM. While the current model still uses kerosene, it can be adapted to use electric turbofans in the future.
“A savings of 20% in fuel consumption may not seem like much, but over time, and at scale, it could potentially make a huge difference — especially if the pace of electric aircraft development and other alternatives doesn’t pick up,” Tech Crunch reports.
Electric air vehicles have been making progress in terms of making electric commercial air mobility a possibility. Virgin Atlantic recently used recycled waste to power a commercial flight, while Lilium Jet accomplished the first test flight for its 5-seater air taxi.
However, “we cannot simply electrify the whole fleet, as electrified airplanes become way too heavy and you can’t fly people across the Atlantic on electric airplanes — not now, not in 30 years,” Vos states. The most probable solution (as of now) would be modifying the current gas-consuming planes to emit fewer greenhouse gasses.
The timeline for the Flying-V to get passengers flying cross-Atlantic is not exactly immediate, either. KLM suggests that the aircraft won’t be ready for commercial use sometime between 2040 and 2050 based on the current development schedule. The good news is that the team is hoping to put a scale model into real-world flight testing later this year.