What is a Regional Aircraft and what are the challenges?
An aircraft that can transport between approximately 30 and 100 passengers, and is intended for short and medium haul flights can be considered to be a Regional Aircraft.
Now imagine that it's September 7th 2031 and Sarah Smith's diary for the week ahead is looking like a nightmare. She's the Marketing Director of VirtuModo, Europe's leading virtual-reality networking platform for the fashion industry, and has business meetings throughout the week across some of Europe's up-and-coming fashion centres – Antwerp, Lyon and Barcelona, then finally back home to London City Airport on Friday. In between, she has to stop off in Malmö and then Eindhoven - smaller locales best served by regional aircraft that can fly in to these smaller, regional airports.
Back in 2016, Sarah's journey would have been disjointed. Sectors served on medium-sized jets such as the B737 or A320 would be of a particular standard, but regional flights – especially on turboprop aircraft – would have been a significant downgrade: Noisy, bumpy and cramped, and with the inevitable need to check a bag almost regardless of its “approved cabin bag” size.
Now let's leap forward to 2031: Thanks to the implementation of new technologies designed, developed and demonstrated under Clean Sky 1 and 2, flying on regional aircraft is now more convenient, faster, quieter, smoother – and more environmentally acceptable for point-to-point travel in Europe.
By 2031, the development of Clean Sky 3's technologies for 2050, and even beyond, will be underway, further reinforcing Europe's technological and environmental supremacy in aviation's global marketplace.
The challenge is that, in 2016, we still have some way to go to improve the passenger experience so that regional aircraft offer a comparable level of inflight comfort, free from noise and vibration, with a comfort level comparable or better than today’s modern jets and with a reliability of service well beyond today’s service into small and regional airports.
Regional aircraft are sandwiched between two sets of competitors: Shortened versions of airliners at the top end, and larger aircraft within the Small Air Transport (SATs) category at the other end.
Another challenge is on the ground. Improving rail networks, especially those with high-speed trains, offer a compelling alternative without the laborious procedures associated with getting in and out of airports, security checks and delays caused by weather.
Therefore, regional aircraft have to "up their game" by improving the product, being more resilient to poor weather, making it easier to board and disembark, become lighter to reduce fuel burn, have better systems for more agile flight envelope characteristics, have improved airframe structures that reduce maintenance – plus many other features in place that bring significant improvement to the product side of regional air travel.
They have to do all this and be more ecological in the process. That's the challenge for Clean Sky 2's Regional Aircraft IADP.
The Regional Aircraft IADP will focus on demonstrating and validating key technologies that will enable a 90-seat class turboprop aircraft to deliver breakthrough economic and environmental performance and superior passenger experience.
Regional aircraft are a key element of Clean Sky 2, providing essential building blocks towards an air transport system that respects the environment, ensures safe and seamless mobility, and builds industrial leadership in Europe. The Regional Aircraft IADP will bring technologies to a further level of integration and maturity than currently pursued in Clean Sky 1. The goal is to integrate and validate, at aircraft level, advanced technologies for regional aircraft so as to drastically de-risk their integration into future products.
The individual Technology Developments will be arranged via “Technology Waves” (most are already defined) with several individual roadmaps, defined to satisfy the high-level requirements of the future Highly-Efficient Next Generation Regional Aircraft.
To increase synergies and cross fertilization across the different ITDs and IADPs some of the technological roadmaps will be shared with the “streams” of the Airframe ITD and with the developments of sub-systems and systems planned inside Systems and Engine ITDs.
The Technology Waves so far defined comprise:
- An Innovative Wing and Flight Controls suitable for regional aircraft
- A Flight Demonstration of a High Efficient and Low Noise Wing with Integrated Structural and related Systems solution, including power plant aspects
- Integration and on-ground testing of a full scale innovative regional aircraft fuselage and passenger cabin, including on-board systems for increasing passenger comfort and safety
- Virtual and Physical “Iron Birds” will be used to integrate, optimize and validate the systems modification of the Flying Test Bed - essential to achieve the permit-to-fly
- Ground Demonstration of the wing in the Airframe ITD and related systems
- Ground Demonstration of the cockpit Airframe ITD including the structure and related system
- Nacelle ground demonstration (on the Airframe ITD): To be confirmed
The Demonstration Programme will be divided into technologically compatible and “scope close” demonstration sub-programmes, including two flying test-beds (FTBs) and several ground demonstrators, some of which will be managed in, and performed through, the Airframe ITD:
The strategy of Clean Sky 2's Regional Aircraft IADP programme is to satisfy the high-level requirements of the future Highly-Efficient Next Generation Regional Aircraft, the configuration of which will be developed at conceptual level in a dedicated work package.
FTB1 - Innovative Wing and Flight Controls (Regional IADP):
This demonstrator will include integration and flight testing of technologies suitable for regional aircraft applications for a new generation wing and for advanced flight control systems. Innovative wing related systems and wing structural solutions will also be incorporated where feasible. Aerodynamic enhancements and Load Control & Alleviation (LC&A) features will be considered to complement FTB2, such as high A/R by means of adaptive/innovative winglets.
FTB2 - Flight Demonstration of a high efficient and low noise Wing with Integrated Structural and related Systems solution, including power plant aspects (Regional IADP):
This demonstrator will have an Integrated Structural and related Systems solution, including power plant aspects (Regional IADP): A new wing will be designed, manufactured and equipped with new structural solutions strongly integrated with advanced low power and high efficient systems including ice protection, fuel, flight control, engine systems, LE and winglets morphing.
Full-scale innovative fuselage and passenger cabin (Regional IADP):
This will involve the integration and on-ground testing of an innovative full scale fuselage and passenger cabin including all the on board systems and advanced solutions for increasing passenger comfort and safety. The fuselage will be a full scale demonstration of technologies for composite material, structures and manufacturing aimed towards weight and cost reduction and to minimise the environmental impact through eco-design and energy consumption optimisation throughout the life-cycle (towards zero-impact).
Iron Bird (Regional IADP):
An iron bird is a type of immobile "sister ship" aircraft that never flies, but stays in a hangar, undergoing constant analysis to monitor how systems, electrics and structures will perform in the future. It accumulates more simulated flying hours than its counterpart siblings, so we can monitor the performance of an aircraft further into the future than its airborne sister ships will ever fly.
Iron Birds used to only exist in physical form, but there are virtual iron birds too now. Both physical and virtual iron birds form an indispensable part of the Regional A/C Ground Demonstration Programme, used to integrate, optimise and validate the systems modification of the Flying Test Bed. The results of their simulations and ground testing will be essential to achieve the permit-to-fly.
Ground Demonstration of the wing (Airframe ITD):
This will include the airframe and related systems.
Ground Demonstration of the Cockpit (Airframe ITD):
This will include the structure and related system.
Nacelle ground demonstration (Airframe ITD):
A nacelle is the aerodynamically-contoured shroud that envelopes most aircraft engines.
Sub-programme to be confirmed.
Escalating expectations from consumers for better comfort, speed, and lower fares on short and medium haul sectors means that Regional Aircraft have to "up their game" by improving the product.
Considerable investment is needed to bring about these improvements, and this appears to be supported by market growth: Eurocontrol's Industry Monitor bulletin on air transport trends (Issue N°182. 04/04/2016) highlights the fact that European flights increased by 3% in February 2016 compared with February 2015. Similarly, IATA reported that European scheduled passenger traffic (RPK) increased by 4% in January 2016 (vs. January 2015). Capacity was up by 2.1% and the total passenger load factors reached a January record high of 78.7%.
Moreover, Eurocontrol's seven-year forecast (2016-2022) is for 11.5 million flight movements in Europe in 2022 - this is 16% more than in 2015. The 1.5% growth that was seen in 2015 is expected to strengthen in 2016 and to reach a rate of above 2% (in the European Civil Aviation Conference area).
Tomorrow’s challenge, today’s call to action
Europe was once a powerhouse of regional aircraft design and manufacturing capability. A renaissance of this once world-dominant capability in regional aviation could become a reality with Clean Sky 2's resources and vision to reinvigourate that capability with a spectrum of new eco-technolgies for the needs of tomorrow's regional flight segments.
With the advent of low cost airlines making regional air travel more popular than ever, passengers seek an improving inflight experience - not just in the smaller narrowbody twinjets such as the A320 and B737, but also in regional aircraft that serve the smaller airports.
Clean Sky 2 actively takes on this undertaking, introducing new technologies to raise the standards of regional aircraft, enabling them to fly with greater economy, ecology – whilst delivering a smoother, faster and more comfortable inflight experience.
Thanks to Clean Sky, Europe's aero-industry has forged an unprecedented level of cross-border collaborations and cemented a unified vision for the future of European leadership in aeronautical innovation. Clean Sky has enabled the infrastructure, expertise and original thinking in Europe's aviation sector to thrive through public private funding. That assurance, and lifeline – especially for more modestly sized players in the eco-system – provides the confidence to nurture long-term thinking and innovative solutions for solving the complex challenges that Europe's aviation sector faces in its regional products and services.
The healthy demand for regional air travel combined with the potential for there to be a European renaissance of regional aeronautical R&T, design, and manufacturing capability - fostered by Clean Sky - presents an opportunity for Europe to regain market-share in this vibrant market that demands eco-friendly air travel.