Zunum Aero reveals details of its 12-seat hybrid-electric passenger aircraft that it hopes to be operational by 2022

Fri 13 Oct 2017 – US-based Zunum Aero has revealed more details of its hybrid-electric 12-seat regional aircraft that it claims will be operational by 2022. In April, Zunum announced it had received backing from Boeing HorizonX and JetBlue Technology Ventures (see article). The aircraft is being designed to have a maximum cruise speed of 340 miles an hour and a take-off distance of 2,200 feet (670m), and the company believes it can open up fast and affordable travel for thousands of communities across the United States. It is expected to have up to 80 per cent lower emissions compared to comparable jet aircraft, and over time Zunum’s quest is to eliminate emissions with an all-electric version. UK low-cost carrier easyJet recently unveiled its support for an electric regional aircraft in development by US start-up, Wright Electric (see article).

The US has many thousands of small airports yet Zunum says around 96% of air traffic travels through 1% of its airports, leaving a large untapped market on short routes where it is unprofitable for private jets and commercial airlines to operate. The company believes that with advances in battery technology, lightweight electric motors and carbon composite airframes, direct costs could work out at eight US cents per seat-mile, or $250 per hour – about one-fifth that of a small jet or turboprop plane. Many smaller airports also have environmental constraints that Zunum says its aircraft can overcome.

The aircraft would be powered by two electric motors and a supplemental jet-fuel engine to ensure the plane has a range of up to 700 miles – about two hours of flight – and so well beyond current battery technology capability. The motor being designed by Zunum will drive a fan similar to the bypass fan on a conventional jet engine but without combustion. These quiet electric propulsors with their variable pitch fans would enable a 40% reduction in runway needs and a 75% drop in community noise. Wing-integrated batteries would enable tailoring of onboard battery capacity and quick-swap or recharge at airports.

The company says it is discussing with aircraft manufacturers about building the airframe. It is planning to open a second development in the Chicago area and start ground tests ahead of first flights planned for 2019.

With projected advances in battery technology Zunum is setting its sights on a larger 50-seater plane with a range of 1,000 miles by the end of the next decade.

“Regional travel is ripe for reinvention,” says JetBlue Technology Ventures, which backs travel and technology early start-ups. “Options for journeys up to a thousand miles are far from ideal, limited to slow travel on the ground and air service consolidating to large hubs. As a result, door-to-door times have not improved for decades, and the only alternative, high-speed rail, is limited by heavy capital needs for a few dense corridors. Zunum Aero aims to change that.”


Copyright © 2017 GreenAir Communications

Flights in all world regions at greater risk of severe turbulence incidents as a result of climate change

Tue 10 Oct 2017 – In May, 27 passengers on board an Aeroflot flight from Moscow to Bangkok were injured when the Boeing 777 encountered clear-air turbulence. Because the plane was unable to detect the turbulence ahead, passengers had not been warned to fasten their seat belts. There is evidence that clear-air turbulence (CAT) has already risen by 40-90% over Europe and North America since 1958 and studies by researchers from the universities of Reading and East Anglia in the UK have shown that as a consequence of climate change, the frequency of turbulence on flights between Europe and North America could double by 2050 and the intensity increase by 10-40%. The same researchers have since extended their previous work by analysing eight geographic regions, two flight levels, five turbulence strength categories and four seasons, and found large increases in CAT.

“While turbulence does not usually pose a major danger to flights, it is responsible for hundreds of passenger injuries every year,” said Luke Storer, a researcher at the University of Reading and co-author of the new study. “It is also by far the most common cause of serious injuries to flight attendants. Turbulence is thought to cost US air carriers up to $200 million annually.”

Previous research focused on turbulence over the North Atlantic region – one of the busiest air routes in the world – and suggested climate change will increase high-altitude wind instabilities in the jet stream in winter, generating stronger and more frequent pockets of CAT. Using supercomputer simulations of the future atmosphere, the new study analysed changes to CAT over the entire globe by the second half of the century.

The researchers found strong increases in CAT in all regions, in particular the mid-latitudes in both hemispheres where the busiest flights are in operation, and some regions may experience several hundred per cent more turbulence. They also found that of the five turbulence strength categories, the strongest turbulence will increase the most.

Flights to the most popular international destinations are projected to experience the largest increases, with severe turbulence at a typical cruising altitude of 39,000 feet becoming up to two or three times as common throughout the year over the North Atlantic (180% more common), Europe (160% more common), North America (110% more common), the North Pacific (90% more common) and Asia (60% more common).

The study also makes the first ever turbulence projections for the Southern Hemisphere, finding the amount of airspace containing severe turbulence is calculated to increase over South America by 60% and over Australia and Africa by 50%.

“Air turbulence is increasing across the globe, in all seasons, and at multiple cruising altitudes. This problem is only going to worsen as the climate continues to change,” said Paul Williams, Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading and lead author of the study.

He said the results highlighted an increasing need to improve operational CAT forecasts and to use them effectively in flight planning. “Despite containing useful information and demonstrably improving the safety and comfort of air travel, these forecasts continue to include a substantial fraction of false positives and missed events,” he added.

The study points out that future aeronautical advances, such as remote sensing of CAT using onboard light detection and ranging (lidar) technology, might be able to mitigate the operational effects of the worsening atmospheric turbulence. For example, Boeing is collaborating with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to develop a system that will detect CAT more than 60 seconds, or about 17.5km, ahead of the aircraft (see Wired article). Even if it does not give pilots enough time to divert round the threat, it would alert crew and minimise the risk of injuries.

“Our findings may have implications for aviation operations in the coming decades,” say the researchers. “Many of the aircraft that will be flying in the second half of the present century are currently in the design phase. It would therefore seem sensible for the aircraft manufacturers to prepare for a more turbulent atmosphere, even at this early stage.”

The study, ‘Global response of clear-air turbulence to climate change’, is published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.


Copyright © 2017 GreenAir Communications

UN senior climate official calls on all governments to join CORSIA and up long-term ambitions to reduce aviation CO2

Mon 9 Oct 2017 – The participation of all countries in ICAO’s global CORSIA carbon offsetting scheme is needed for it to be fully effective, a senior UNFCCC official told industry leaders at last week’s Global Sustainable Aviation Summit in Geneva. Even then the sector’s aspirational goal of stabilising emissions at 2020 levels would not be enough to reach the Paris climate agreement targets, said Ovais Sarmad, Deputy Executive Secretary of the UN climate change agency. However, he commended the aviation industry’s 2050 reduction target and called on ICAO to up its own long-term ambitions. Dr Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, President of ICAO’s governing Council, told the conference that a steering group of ICAO’s CAEP environmental committee had finalised recommendations for new CORSIA regulations and the UN aviation agency was working with the UNFCCC on eligible emissions units for the scheme.

In a keynote address, Sarmad said the success of the Paris Agreement would “depend on the combined efforts of every man, woman, child, government, business and industry – including the airline industry.”

While under the Agreement and its Kyoto Protocol predecessor only emissions from domestic aviation were taken into account, “climate change knows no borders nor does it have an opt-out clause,” he said.

“That’s why we welcome the decision of ICAO to implement the first global carbon market-based mechanism – CORSIA – to stabilise emissions at 2020 levels. CORSIA is the world’s first market-based measure for dealing with climate change from any industrial sector. This alone is significant and represents a much-needed step forward in ensuring that international aviation will be part of the solution to climate change.

“Nonetheless, we feel the long-term goals of ICAO need further improvement in order to be in line with the Paris Agreement. Remember, we set ourselves the target to stay well below 2 degrees C of global temperature increase. To reach it, science tells us that emissions must peak as soon as possible and we must achieve climate neutrality in the second half of this century.

“The aspirational goal of stabilising emissions at 2020 is therefore a good start, but these levels will not be enough to reach the Paris Agreement’s targets. Simply put, we need more ambition.”

Sarmad noted the aviation industry had accepted responsibility with a more ambitious target to reduce its emissions by 50% by 2050 compared to 2005 levels.

“This is the kind of ambition that every government should be happy to support the aviation industry to achieve,” he said. “Therefore, in addition to ICAO upping its long-term ambition for aviation overall, we need more member states joining CORSIA.

“The industry has pushed to get CORSIA implemented for more than six years but, as of September, only 72 member states out of 191 have volunteered to be part of its first phases. Let’s be clear: this represents close to 88% of international activity and 80% of emissions growth above 2020 levels – but the participation of all member states is needed for it to be fully effective.”

In the period leading up to the start of CORSIA, he said, clear guidelines on emissions units needed to be set, for example to avoid double-counting, and he encouraged airlines to take early voluntary action to reduce and offset their greenhouse gas emissions.

“The early actors will have the benefit of having complete systems, experience and a good understanding of what climate action means for their companies. There are significant benefits for airlines to benefit from learning-by-doing.”

ICAO’s Dr Aliu said the agency was “fully engaged” on the full implementation of CORSIA and was “very hard at work” on its regulatory framework. The Steering Group of its Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP) had recently finalised recommendations for the new Volume IV of Annex 16 to the Chicago Convention containing proposed Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) for CORSIA, he reported.

“These are now being reviewed simultaneously through the ICAO Air Navigation Commission and the Council Advisory Group on CORSIA, and they are expected to be finally adopted by the ICAO Council by mid-2018. The related applicability date is presently being targeted for January 2019,” he told delegates in his keynote speech.

The SARPs would be complemented with standardised templates, guidance and tools for what he described as “robust and transparent” monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) of international aviation CO2 emissions, which he said was crucial to the overall effectiveness of CORSIA. ICAO is currently developing a CO2 Estimation and Reporting Tool (CERT) to help simplify MRV procedures.

Recent reports have suggested a difference of opinion by certain states at ICAO on who should determine which emissions units are eligible under the scheme that airlines may use. However, Dr Aliu said that as it had been requested by its Assembly in 2016, the responsibility would rest with ICAO.

“One thing we should be very clear about in this context is that relationship between ICAO and the UNFCCC process,” he said. “We have a very good partnership with the UNFCCC Secretariat, by exchanging information and expertise of mutual interests, while respecting the specific mandates of each organisation.

“In considering carbon credits, special attention will be given to those credits generated from the UNFCCC and its Paris Agreement, as agreed by the Assembly, but our goal must be to make sure that reliable credits will be purchased by international aviation, without the possibility of them being used for double counting by other sectors. I expect good progress in the UNFCCC process, so that ICAO can take into account the relevant developments in our decision on eligible emissions units for CORSIA.”

Copyright © 2017 GreenAir Communications