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The future of flight

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29 June 2011 by Luke McCormick

Each week Luke McCormick, Wexas Channel Editor, provides an inside look at the latest headlines and gives his independent, expert comment.

This week: The future of flight

The world's largest annual air show took place in Paris last week and with it came a host of exciting new announcements from aircraft makers.

The explosive growth of aviation in Asia was highlighted by Air Asia's decision to order 200 Airbus A320neo worth £11.3 billion, the third biggest aircraft order in history.

"Our decision to be one of the launch customers for the A320neo will ensure that we remain at the forefront of our business, with one of the world's youngest and most modern fleets, " said Tan Sri Dr Tony Fernandes.

This was followed closely by Indian airline IndiGo's order of 180 of the jets.

Paris Air Show

Airbus suffered a number of setbacks during the show when one of their aircraft clipped a wing on the runway, while another showpiece model suffered a gearbox failure, grounding both key planes.

However the European manufacturer came out the clear winner, setting a record for the most aircraft orders ever taken at an airshow, with 730 orders worth more than £43 billion eclipsing main rival Boeing (£13 billion) by a huge margin.

Earlier the group released plans of a prototype aircraft, their estimation of what might be possible in years to come.

Concept planes

Concept planeEarlier future gazers at Airbus released radical blueprints for concept planes and aircraft interiors, imagining technologies and innovations that will make these concepts a reality.

In future passengers may no longer have to suffer claustrophobic conditions, with plans to create transparent cabins and different ‘zones' suited to relaxation, working and socialising.

Traditional cabin classes are replaced by areas that target more individual needs such as playing games, interacting with other passengers or holding business meetings with people on the ground.

The aircraft's structure would incorporate an 'intelligent' cabin wall membrane to control air temperature and which could become transparent to give passengers open, panoramic views.

Concept planeThe cabin's bionic structure would feature an ‘integrated neural network' pulsing through it and fittings and furnishings that take care of their own cleaning and repair by making use of innovations inspired by nature, such as dirt repellent coatings and self-healing covers.

Airbus engineering executive vice-president Charles Champion said, "Our research shows that passengers of 2050 will expect a seamless travel experience, while also caring for the environment.

"The concept cabin is designed with that in mind, and shows that the journey can be as much a voyage of discovery as the destination."

Hypersonic flight

It seems supersonic flight could also be back on the agenda, with aircraft capable of flying through the stratosphere faster than Concorde's Mach 2.04 cruise speed attracting interest.

An experimental ‘hypersonic' jet that would fly at twice the speed of the Concorde on biofuel made from seaweed, taking less than two and a half hours to travel from Paris to Tokyo, has been unveiled.

The futuristic Zero Emission Hypersonic Transportation (ZEHRA) could transport 100 passengers at 3,125 mph, soaring 20 miles above the earth, just outside the atmosphere, at four times the speed of sound.

At these speeds it would take 90 minutes to fly from Paris to New York, compared to Concorde's previous three and half hours and almost eight hours in a standard passenger jet.

It is expected passengers would be charged around £5,000 pounds for a London-New York return in the almost exclusively ‘clean' fuel aircraft.

Travellers may need to wait though as the first commercial flight is not expected until 2050, with non-manned test flights slated for 2020.

Mach jet

It seems supersonic theory is accelerating across the industry as UK-based HyperMach Europe also tested the waters with a new supersonic private jet concept in Paris.

The 20-seat Mach 3.5 SonicStar business jet would cruise at 62,000ft (19,000m) and link Paris to New York in two hours by 2021, thanks to hybrid electric/gas turbine engines designed to reduce the sonic boom noise and allow for overland flight.

If the economics for these aircraft can be worked out to create viable business models then all signs point to super and hypersonic travel becoming the future of flight.

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