Business jets get a lot of stick: they’re often maligned, perceived as an indulgence of pampered pop stars and decadent dignitaries. But as Paul Sillers finds, there’s an ecological side to the high life too.
Flying around in your own private jet might seem pretty cool. But the reality is that most business jets are used to get executives, whose time is valuable, swiftly between often inaccessible points that aren’t always served by the airline hubs. There’s usually a business case for their use – it’s not just the imagined elitist option for the privileged few. But where is the science of business jets heading? What is their impact on the environment, and do they even have any eco credentials?
Sceptics may consider the idea of an eco business jet as a misnomer, an oxymoron. But the industry has pledged to improve fuel efficiency by two per cent year-on-year until 2020, attain carbon neutral growth from 2020, and reduce total carbon emissions by 50 per cent by 2050, relative to 2005 levels.
The ecology of business jets does not just take in the aircraft themselves.
There’s a holistically circular process underpinning the conceptualisation, design, development, manufacture, testing, certification, service entry, maintenance, retirement, dismantling and recycling of materials – every part of the process surrounding the lifecycle of the aircraft.
A good example of this is Europe’s biggest player in the business jet sector: The French business jet manufacturer Dassault Falcon is certified in its entire lifecycle processes to ISO 14001 after it signed up to the United Nations Global Compact initiative in 2003. This is the international standard that signifies when an organisation has developed and implemented an effective environmental management system, and this extends to the use of all chemicals in its plants. For instance, before a Dassault Falcon business jet rolls out in a completed state from the hangar, the plane is painted using chromate-free paint with a lower concentration of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The manufacturer has also implemented a new process for unsealed anodising of aluminium alloy components – allowing a significantly reduced quantity of residual chromates on aircraft parts.
Vadim Feldzer, the jet maker’s head of global communications, outlined some of Dassault’s environmental initiatives to Salt. He explains:
“The economic imperatives of the manufacturer link with environmental concerns to improve fuel economy and lower emissions. Dassault is taking part in numerous international environmental research efforts including the European Clean Sky programme, a public-private partnership aimed at finding new solutions for improved environmental performance, and its own eco design project, which aims to optimise the aircraft in the design phase to further reduce fuel consumption.”
The design and prototyping stages of aircraft development also follow ecological principles. Whereas in the past, full-size mock-ups and prototypes had to be built, Dassault has transitioned into a ‘zero-mock up’ and ‘zero- prototype’ process, using 3D tools including CATIA V5/V6 and Enovia PLM – digitising the Product Lifecycle Management process across all stages, from concept through to post- service recycling. Digital prototyping has eliminated the cost in time and materials, resources and tooling of physical prototyping – a boon toward Dassault’s eco targets.
If the USP of business jets is that they save time and bypass the queues associated with conventional airport hubs, then how better to accentuate that advantage than by accelerating the journey itself? That’s the vision of Aerion, based in Reno, Nevada, which has designed and is now developing in collaboration with Airbus, the AS2 – the world’s first supersonic business jet.
The jet is designed to fly from San Francisco to Tokyo in six hours, 54 minutes instead of the conventional 10 hours 24 minutes. But there’s more. And it’s a compelling eco-PR factor: The AS2 can not only fly faster than the speed of sound but, because of the way aeronautical designers have shaped its wings, the AS2 can fly at up to 1.2 Mach in such a way as to render the supersonic boom imperceptible at ground level.
Aerion’s vice president for marketing and communications, Jeff Miller, explains that:
“the AS2’s advanced aerodynamics, specifically its supersonic natural laminar flow wing, confer a drag reduction of about 20 per cent versus a supersonic aircraft with a traditional delta or swept wing design.”
What this means is that, in addition to the “boomless” speed, the wing’s”reduced drag equates to reduced power requirements and therefore improves fuel efficiency. The AS2 is therefore as efficient as a supersonic jet can possibly be.”
Further eco design factors mean that the aircraft could be “operated on cleaner biofuels that meet the same spec as today’s Jet-A aviation fuel,” says Miller.
Deliveries of the AS2 are expected to be available to customers in the early 2020s.
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