Frost & Sullivan MI on Aviation Industry: The Silent Buzz of the All-Electric Aircraft


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Frost & Sullivan Alix Leboulanger talks about recent market developments after Paris Air Show 2013

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Frost & Sullivan MI on Aviation Industry: The Silent Buzz of the All-Electric Aircraft

  1. 1. 1 Aviation Industry: The Silent Buzz of the All-Electric Aircraft by Alix Leboulanger, Research Analyst – Aerospace, Defence & Security
  2. 2. 2 ParisAirshow2013:ahalftoneMarket? Introduction Bookmakers’ optimistic prognostics despite the economically grey conjecture were almost exact for the Paris Air Show 2013. On the commercial aviation side, Boeing and Airbus have entertained spectators from the very beginning of the Paris Airshow and both companies registered significant orders, in total 466 jets sold for Airbus ($68.7 billion total contracts) and 442 jets for Boeing ($66.4 billion total contracts). However, the military aviation side was less buoyant; it was more about new products launch, from systems like the C-MUSIC from Elbit to unmanned vehicles like the P.1 HH HammerHead from Piaggio Aero, or the nascent programs being announced such as the likely unmanned Gripen from Saab, the JAS Gripen-E. If bookmakers were expecting major deals in the same tone as the 99 V-22s in the US or the confirmed order for 34 NH90 TTH in France, both announced two weeks before the airshow, unfortunately no such thing happen. Even the Russian OEMs remained silent in spite of the dominant flight demos Su-35 and Yak 130. Undertone whisperers were either commenting on potential A400M order, discussions dampened under the almost monsoon like rain showers, or when the sun was back gossiping about winning contenders’ name for the Polish and French Air Force fast trainers jets replacement tender, with BAE Systems’ Hawk AJT and Pilatus’ PC-21 as the main favourite. What was buzzing regardless the weather was Innovation. Orders books were maybe a bit down or lower than expected, but Innovation was still flying high in the sky, since recent achievements have made it more credible to hard believers. If one word could qualify the Paris Airshow 2013, it would be “electric”… Already electric on the Bourget runaway... Every day from noon, the show was starting to get electric with an Airbus A320 circulating among others aircraft displayed in the static area. Safran and Honeywell indeed created the attraction with their Electric Green Taxiing System-EGTS prototype, which could fundamentally change aircraft taxi out process by simply adding electric engines close to the aircraft landing gear. These engines take their energy from the auxiliary power unit and hence enable the airplane to go autonomously from the airport gate till the runaway without the need to engage the aircraft main engines, so without burning fuel. According to Safran, when compared to the dual engine taxi out phase and based on an average of 25 minutes taxi out before a one-hour flight, EGTS could allow an airline company owning hundreds of mid-carrier aircraft to gain 4% of fuel savings over a year. Another system intended to also make airport areas greener and aircraft more environmental friendly is the TaxiBot vehicle, jointly developed by Israel Aerospace
  3. 3. 3 ParisAirshow2013:ahalftoneMarket? Industries, Airbus, TLD Group and LEOS. This system differs from EGTS as it is a diesel electric powered tractor vehicle, half autonomous half pilot-controlled, that carries the aircraft from the gate to the runaway. With 180 potential sales in the pipeline, TaxiBot is planning to start its certification process by 2014 and first deliveries are expected by the end of next year. If both systems prove to significantly enable faster taxi outs, more aircraft manoeuvres and fuel savings, these will lead the larger industry towards an all-electric aircraft. But why concentrating efforts on this cutting-edge project, rather than investing in biofuels, hydrogen or water engine developments? (fig.1) Figure 1: The likely benefits of an all-electric aircraft Sou rce: Frost & Sullivan Analysis There are two main justifications pushing in favour of the all-electric aircraft. First, it is said to fundamentally enhance each aircraft availability rate, as systems and engines would be more reliant, and hence with less support required. Long-paced scheduled maintenance turnarounds and faster unscheduled overhauls means more time; and time is money for airliners. The second advantage is also financial, with less reliance on fuel, airliners should be less dependent on rising oil prices and so passengers travel fares could drastically decrease. Consequently, the electric switch may be really expensive, but the promised return of investment could be attractive enough to encourage investments towards this.
  4. 4. 4 ParisAirshow2013:ahalftoneMarket? If all developments go according to the plan, then the all-electric commercial aviation could take off by 2035-2040. Therefore, it is high time to start thinking of new electric infrastructures for airports, electric storage areas, airplane new support in service and power by the hour bespoke deals. But before thinking aftermarket, how is the all-electric aircraft currently taking shape? Is it a step-by-step process or a whole project designed from scratch? As illustrated by TaxiBot and EGTS, revolution is made one step at the time (fig.2). Figure 2: Main milestones to reach before getting all-electric Source: Frost & Sullivan Analysis As a matter of fact, among the several targets to achieve, the focus is primarily put on replacing aircraft pneumatic and hydraulics systems to make the airplane lighter and faster. Engineers are currently working on how electric drive can provide better efficiency than mechanical transmissions and actuators. Furthermore, maintenance costs are assessed to decrease as system failures will be easier to track and fix. Once this challenge is overcome, the mid-term objectives are on one hand to make changes to the entire aircraft architecture, such as for the Ce-Liner design from the Bauhaus Lufthart already in conception, and on the other hand, explore and introduce new composite alloys to continually decrease aircraft weight. The final and golden milestone will be a completely electric power system and thrust. As soon as aircraft propulsion will become fully electric, then steel, aluminium, (bio) fuels, heat engine and combustion will be by-gone memories of the twentieth century. Despite all the developments being simultaneously on-track, recent debates on lithium-ion versus nickel-cadmium batteries give the impression that the 100% electric aircraft is not ready to take off soon. However, if Paris Airshow spectators were willing to see an existing all-electric airplane, there were some cutting-edge aircraft in the static display area.
  5. 5. 5 ParisAirshow2013:ahalftoneMarket? ...And soon electric in the air Cri-Cri developed by EADS Innovation Works made its first maiden flight at the Paris Airshow in 2011, this year this four engines all-electric aerobatic plane introduced E-Fan, its sibling. E-Fan is a light sport aircraft, all carbon made and with two-seats this time, gets equipped with two engines and a very similar system to the Safran-Honeywell EGTS. Its first flight is scheduled for September 2013 and it could be used as a very light training aircraft in the near future. Earlier this year, another electric powered small aircraft, SportStar Epos developed by the Czech companies Evektor and Rotex Electric (for the engines) performed a twenty minutes flight in March 2013. If E-Fan and SportStar Epos are at their early flight trials stage, they are showing the lead for potential Boeing and Airbus NextGen electric mid-carriers. After all, the all-electric airplane is getting closer than it initially seemed. But airplanes are not the only aircraft getting all the electric attention, Vertical Take Off and Landing-VTOL aircraft and UAVs are also in the target, especially at Finmeccanica, that this year displayed as a world premier its Project Zero. After a first unmanned flight in 2011, the all-electric tilt-rotor aircraft is a step far ahead from the AW-609 tilt-rotor helicopter, however the unique and most interesting feature of Project Zero is that when on the ground, its rotors can be pointed into the wind to windmill and hence recharge its electrical storage system. One may say that E-Fan, Cricri and SportStar Epos are only unreal prototypes for an impossible future, but actually developments and achievements made on electric systems and structure are happening faster than expected. In overall, this is the entire development timeframe to be revised with the aviation getting electric. As an example, Project Zero has been developed at the speed of the light in only one year, in 2010, and was flying nearly one year after. It is true that the program is far from being completed; however, what was made possible in a 3 year timeframe would never have been possible ten years ago. Regarding speeding up the process, there is another question essential to ask: Will it be first an all-electric airplane, then all-electric helicopter and finally all-electric UAV? Or instead, it will be a radical new aircraft type, like Project Zero? With aircraft interiors getting more modular and aircraft more versatile, it may be conceived that Research & Developments teams will take this opportunity to realize an-all in one change.
  6. 6. 6 ParisAirshow2013:ahalftoneMarket? Conclusion Next year at Farnborough, bookmakers will certainly continue their bets against Boeing, Airbus, Embraer, Bombardier, Sukhoi and maybe COMAC big orders books, but they should also start to make some environmental prognostics: How many all electric aircraft in development? Which UAV will be the most electric? Is there a new generation of battery getting reloaded thanks to tilt rotors? Which technologies and / or products will evolve and consequently impact the all-electric aircraft? Or which helicopter will become solar like the Solar Impulse plan? What is certain is that the aviation market is definitely not mute, just taking a new breath. To know more, please contact or About Frost & Sullivan Frost & Sullivan, the Growth Partnership Company, works in collaboration with clients to leverage visionary innovation that addresses the global challenges and related growth opportunities that will make or break today's market participants. For more than 50 years, we have been developing growth strategies for the global 1000, emerging businesses, the public sector and the investment community. Is your organization prepared for the next profound wave of industry convergence, disruptive technologies, increasing competitive intensity, Mega Trends, breakthrough best practices, changing customer dynamics and emerging economies? Contact us: Start the discussion