What are Systems and what are the challenges?

Embedded in our mindset are the external elements of the aircraft like the fuselage, empennage, engines and wings, and our experience – even when we start to fly as passengers – is mainly constrained to the things we see, know and interact with when we fly.

But as with everything else in life – what is hidden under the skin is the most intriguing, complex and fascinating part; especially so with aircraft and its wide range of technologies. And it's these elements that determine much of the performance, safety, longevity and environmental impact of an aircraft.

Hidden from view are many aircraft systems and equipment, which are crucial for operation, flight optimisation and safety, but also needed to control the environment in the cabin and keep it at a comfortable temperature; provide the pilots with the computing power to control every aspect of the aircraft; manage fuel in an efficient eco-friendly manner; actuate moving external surfaces on the wings and tail so that the plane can manoeuvre and give passengers a smooth ride.

And that's at the heart of the challenge for the Systems ITD.

Systems on aircraft cannot simply be upgraded or replaced in a “plug and play” manner– any new system design, whether in a new aircraft or as an “upgrade” has to be meticulously validated in terms of the system’s interaction with other systems and with the aircraft, so that it performs efficiently, predictably and dependably throughout the duration of the aircraft's service life.

Another challenge is that new technologies enable now a transition from pneumatics and hydraulics to electromechanical alternatives, resulting in less weight, less pollution and better reliability. This transition is advantageous for the environment, but these new alternatives need further maturation.



While systems and equipment account for a small part of the aircraft weight and environmental footprint, they play a central role in aircraft operation, flight optimisation, and air transport safety at different levels:

Many of the major improvements identified in SESAR (Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research Programme) and Clean Sky for greening, improved mobility or ATS (Air Traffic System) efficiency can only be reached through the development and the integration of on-board systems such as data link, advanced weather systems, trajectory negotiation, and flight management predictive capabilities.

Smart answers to market demands: systems and equipment have to increase their intrinsic performance to meet new aircraft needs without a corresponding increase in weight and volume.

In Clean Sky 1, the Systems for Green Operations ITD has developed solutions for more efficient aircraft operation. Further maturation and demonstration as well as new developments are needed to accommodate the needs of the next generations of aircraft, and this is part of the plan for Clean Sky 2.

In addition, the systemic improvements initiated by SESAR will call for new functions and capabilities for environmental or performance objectives, but also for flight optimisation in all conditions: flight safety, crew awareness and efficiency, better maintenance, reduced cost of operations and higher efficiency.

Finally, framework improvements will be needed to allow for more efficient, faster and easier-to-certify development and implementation of features and functions.

The Systems ITD of Clean Sky 2 will develop and build highly integrated, high TRL demonstrators in major areas such as power management, cockpit, wing, landing gear, to address the needs of future generation aircraft in terms of maturation, demonstration and Innovation.



The Systems ITD in Clean Sky 2 will work on specific topics and technologies to design and develop individual equipment and systems and demonstrate them in local test benches and integrated demonstrators (up to TRL 5).

The main technological domains to be addressed are:

  • cockpit environment and mission management
  • computing platforms and networks
  • innovative wing systems (Wing Ice Protection Systems, sensors, and actuators)
  • landing gears and all their related systems and controls
  • non-propulsive energy management and the optimization of electrical architectures


Other complementary activities are foreseen. The outcome of these developments will be demonstrated systems ready to be customized and integrated in larger settings. An important part of this work will be to identify potential synergies between system architectures for various future aircraft at an early stage to reduce duplication.

Transverse actions will also be defined to mature processes and technologies with potential impact on all systems, either during development or operational use. Examples of these transverse actions can be development framework and tools, simulation, incremental certification, integrated maintenance, and eco-design.




Tomorrow’s challenge, today’s call to action

The aircraft systems market in the civil aviation sector is an international market with customers in the EU, but also in the US, CAN, Brazil or China. And it is also a high value market. For example, one estimate puts the aircraft fuel systems market at a value of $9.15 billion by 2020. That's just one of many systems on-board all aircraft – of all shapes and sizes. And just the Oxygen systems market for aircraft is estimated at $4.47 billion by 2020.

With passenger traffic expected to double over the next twenty years, systems manufacturers need to adapt to growing output demands, but also to keep pushing the technology envelope to ensure that their products have the maximum efficiencies, lowest operational costs, improved reliability and of course the lowest possible impact on the environment. This all will ensure that EU aviation industry will maintain its global technological and market leadership.

Systems on aircraft are often dedicated to one specific purpose or function, but they also tend to interact with other onboard systems. In Clean Sky specialists are working together to approach technological challenges with a multi-perspective approach and diversified expertise. That collaborative culture within Clean Sky is ideal for systems design, using the transverse interactions between different IADPs and ITDs to bring multi-channel thinking in a way that is truly unique in the aeronautical sector.



Environment impact will be reduced as new Clean Sky 2 technologies with improved or new functionalities will lead to a more efficient way of operating aircraft on ground and in the air, e.g. by keeping the aircraft on the optimal flight trajectory independent from any impacts.


New materials and better operational data will bring improved product quality and design insight into the process. Improved systems developed within Clean Sky 2 will reduce operating and maintenance costs, reduce weight, and bring reliability and predictability into the performance of new aircraft, increasing the competitiveness of the EU aviation industry on this international market.





Clean Sky E-News

Have a look at the latest editions of our monthly newsletter. You can read the previous version here. To get E-News delivered directly to your inbox, subscribe here:

Discover past E-News