The aviation industry has introduced new designs over the last century and with more incremental improvements, we can expect the aeroplanes in the future to still look like the existing aeroplanes. Airbus and Boeing recently announced their latest passenger jets. The challenges of designing new aircraft, however, mean that aircraft makers have started relying on updating their current aeroplanes instead of creating new designs. They are revamping older aeroplanes with improved wings, new engines that are fuel efficient and other enhancements.
According to Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ chief executive Ray Conner, there’s no need to create a new program to develop new technologies. The things that were created can be brought to other aeroplanes to create a really good aircraft that meets the needs of the market. The Airbus’ A330neo is just an example of this. The older twin-aisle jet has been equipped with a new engine option. Boeing’s 777X and 737 Max and Airbus’ A320neo are other examples of these new options.
These incremental improvements would mean that passengers can hope for a better flying experience. Aviation enthusiasts who are excited by the technology, however, should hold back their hopes. For shareholders, incremental changes have a lower risk than developing new designs. An example of this is Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner that was supposed to be launched in 2008 but took until 2011 to arrive.
Boeing and Airbus are still getting a large amount of orders even if they are not introducing new designs as airlines are struggling with high fuel costs. Wide-body production is also expected to double over the next years. This is why the aviation industry is focusing on updates to current designs and faster production instead of developing all-new jets that are expensive to test, design and launch to market. It is also very expensive to get a platform certified. Developing an all-new platform when only a few bobs and bibs need to be changed is not exactly a wise investment.
Incremental improvements can be small. For instance, Boeing’s 777X that is planned for release in 2020 will have the same improvements that were given to the 787 Dreamliner. Rather than traditional aluminium designs, it will have new composite wings and its tail assembly will use more aerodynamic materials. The 777X will also have a higher interior air pressure and larger windows, so it will be more comfortable. Much of the new 777X will be similar to the existing 777, but many of the improvements planned in the future are less significant. According to Ray Conner, the A320 is a completely new engine and the 787 Max and A330 are simply an engine change.
Better fuel efficiency is a major incentive for aircraft updates. With high oil prices that are not expected to drop, fuel efficiency is a significant constraint. The Airbus’ A330neo is 14% more fuel efficient than the current A330ceo due to the new engine and its ability to squeeze ten more seats because of the efforts to reconfigure crew galley areas and lavatories. The 737 Max 8 is 20% more fuel efficient due to the new engines and eleven more seats.