The future or fantasy? Airbus reveals its vision of flying in 2050

Airbus has announced its latest vision to create a more environmentally sustainable future for air travel. But will its predictions ever take off?

Airbus wants to change the way we fly.

Steeper, eco-efficient takeoffs, planes flying in formation like birds and glided approaches and landings are some of the possibilities for aviation from 2050 that could help the industry grow sustainably and cut flight delays, according to Airbus.

Europe’s plane maker announced some forward thinking ideas at a media briefing in London on Thursday night.

Catapult runways

Airbus say that assisted takeoffs using renewably powered propelled acceleration (rolling platforms that give the plane extra velocity to push it further before detaching) would help passenger planes to climb at a steeper angle, minimise noise and reach cruising altitudes quicker. Airbus say this would allow planes to take off from shorter runways and ease congestion, as space becomes a premium.

Although the realities of heavyweight passenger planes such as the A380 taking off from short runways is questionable.

Cruising Altitude – flying like a flock of birds

Airbus say that by 2050, intelligent planes could fly in groups – like a flock of birds – along “express skyways.”

Instead of relying on air traffic controllers, they say planes could “self select” the most eco-friendly routes to minimise the energy used to fly long-distances.

It may look like a scene from a Red Arrows display, but passenger planes would always need to keep minimum separation distances for safety reasons.

The effects of weather conditions and wake turbulence on planes flying in a formation are just some of the other issues that would need to be explored.

See Airbus’s vision for the future of flying below:

Unless oil fuel prices surge to levels so high that we will have to resign ourselves to armchair travel (biofuels still present huge cost challenges), we can expect demand for air travel to continue to climb in the long-term.

Airbus say the rising middle classes in China and India are going to drive the overall growth we can expect to see in air travel over the next 20 years.

Airbus predicts that flights within China will overtake US domestic flights as the biggest traffic flow by 2031.

And the airline industry has set an ambitious target of halving its emissions to 2005 levels by 2050 – while allowing for growth.

Critics say that aviation is environmentally sustainable when you take into account growth forecasts and future demand in emerging economies.

But there are still many government and regulatory hurdles to overcome if the industry is to cut its emissions.

One initiative underway is to move towards a single European airspace or ‘Single European Sky’: one computer system that would allow air traffic controllers to work across borders with the common rules and standards.

The aim is to improve safety, help address capacity growth, reduce fuel costs, congestion, CO2 emissions and delays, as planes would be able to fly directly from A to B in straight lines, instead of having to zig zag and lengthen their routes due to today’s fragmented airspace.

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