Air pollution, fuel consomption, noise pollution… Air transport is frequently singled out as one of the most polluting modes of transport - although it contributes only 2% of global man-made CO2 emissions. Yet, the industry continues to grow with over 3.4 billion air passengers in 2014. Worldwide, 52 aircraft now take off every minute.
In the context of a global average traffic growth of around 5% per year, generating economic development, all aviation actors has embarked on an ambitious environmental policy based on increasing the energy efficiency of the sector, while improving safety and efficiency.
As the only global aerospace company with leadership positions in both onboard equipment (flight control systems, in-flight entertainment systems, etc.) and ground equipment (radar, air traffic management systems, etc.), Thales is on the front lines, using its research capacity to develop innovative operational solutions that address the major challenges facing the civil aviation industry: safety and security, growth in traffic volumes, and better energy efficiency from gate to gate.
Did you know?
- Our Integrated Modular Avionics concept, adopted for the first time on the Airbus A380 programme, has reduced the weight of the avionics hardware by 15-20% and boosted onboard computing capacity at the same time.
- Today's in-flight entertainment systems weigh 40% less than the equipment that was being installed 10 years ago.
Energy efficient flying
Avionics is all of the electronic, electrical and computer equipment that helps to control a fixed-wing aircraft or helicopter during every phase of the flight.
Thales brings to the table more than 30 years of experience and expertise in designing and developing complex, intelligent flight management systems. We are constantly developing new functions for these systems, making aircraft safer and reducing their environmental impact.
An intelligent Flight Management System determines an aircraft's optimal trajectory in order to reduce noise, emissions and energy consumption during all phases of a flight (take-off, climb, cruise, descent and arrival).
Flight controls access weather data to avoid sudden changes to flight plans and longer flights. They also keep air traffic flowing smoothly and reduce unnecessary wait times above airports.
Optimal take-off and climb
As part of the European CleanSky programme, Thales has led the development of a new way for aircraft to take off. This procedure automatically adjusts speed, altitude and thrust to reduce noise levels for local residents as well as helping airlines to save on fuel costs.
Thales is participating in ongoing experiments as part of the SESAR I-4D flight programme.
Flight paths are currently calculated and managed using the three dimensions of altitude, longitude and latitude. Adding the fourth dimension — time — makes it possible to manage aircraft separations more efficiently in any given sector.
The new solutions being developed today significantly reduce congestion and delays in terminal airspace to avoid unnecessary fuel burn and improve the passenger experience.
Continuous descent arrival
Continuous descent arrival is a flight technique designed to achieve better fuel efficiency and quieter landings compared with the normal step-down arrival procedure. The aircraft descends on a constant slope with the engines at idle or minimal power settings, and airframe noise is reduced by the delayed deployment of flaps and landing gear. Introduced in 2010, the new approach concept should be widely adopted when regulatory approval procedures are complete.
Continuous descent arrival can economise 100-200 kg of the 2,000 kg of fuel carried by an A320 on a short 45-minute flight.
Landing at any airport
Thales is developing a new type of approach known as Localiser Performance with Vertical Guidance (LPV) and based on the EGNOS satellite navigation systems for Europe.
Aircraft equipped with LPV can land at any airport, even when ILS (Instrument Landing System) systems are not available, limiting the need to install additional equipment on the ground. Another major benefit of LPV is that an aircraft can land at the nearest airport if it suddenly needs to change its flight plan instead of having to fly hundreds of miles to the nearest airport equipped with ILS.
Weight: a critical factor
The heavier an aircraft is, the more fuel it consumes. Thales researchers and engineers are constantly investigating new materials that could make onboard equipment lighter while maintaining or even improving performance levels.
An ideal illustration of this effort is Thales's Integrated Modular Avionics concept, which reduces the number of equipment items installed on board aircraft and makes them less complex. First implemented on the A380 programme, this type of electronics architecture optimises onboard computing resources, cutting the weight of hardware components by 15-20% while increasing computing power and extending equipment lifetimes.
Simpler onboard systems can bring major benefits during the service life of an aircraft. On the A320 programme, for example, Thales redesigned the onboard computers that had been used for 20 years. Without changing the form factor to minimise the impact on the aircraft's other systems, Thales developed new, more powerful computers that weigh 70 kg less — the equivalent of one additional passenger per aircraft.
Less paper on every flight
Air crews require a lot of paper documentation every time an aircraft takes off, so Thales has developed a digital alternative to paper documentation in the cockpit. The innovative TopWings solution comprises hardware and software subsystems that incorporate aerial maps and other data, allowing aircraft to exchange information with flight dispatchers in real time.
Towards all-electric aircraft
All-electric commercial aircraft may still be a pipe dream, but "more electric" aircraft are already a reality. On the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, for example, the proportion of electrically powered systems has more than tripled compared to the previous generation of aircraft. Planemakers like what they see. Their new aircraft offer better fuel efficiency, a smaller carbon footprint and fewer nitrogen oxide emissions — and they're also more reliable and less costly to maintain.
Thanks to innovative solutions from Thales, a number of hydraulic or pneumatic aircraft systems have now gone electric.
For example, incorporating electric motors in aircraft wheels could allow them to taxi without using their main engines, offering fuel savings of around 4% for a short or medium-haul aircraft.
In another area, many aircraft systems — processors, navigation instruments, flap controls, lighting, ventilation and in-flight entertainment systems, for example — are already electrically powered. New applications like engine starting are now going electric on modern aircraft.
Thales also offers power-conversion solutions to power the various electrical networks of an aircraft. These solutions are now fully certified and in service on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and A350 XWB.
Finally, Thales's electronics architecture to power all types of electrical load on an aircraft incorporates a new intelligent power management function that dynamically combines demand and pools resources as needed.
On average, electrical systems cover one-quarter of an aircraft’s energy needs today. Tomorrow, there will be a need to significantly increase the power of electrical generation and conversion systems to power all of an aircraft’s systems, on the ground and in flight, while continuing to make systems lighter, more compact and easier to maintain.
Thales is already working to meet these challenges.
An eco-designed helicopter simulator that reduces actual flight hours and cuts energy consumption
Thales's new helicopter simulation system consumes 10 times less energy than the previous generation of simulators.
This boost in performance is the result of an innovative motion system called Hexaline®, which is no longer based on a hydraulic system but on electrical energy, making it more energy-efficient and eliminating waste and pollution. The new system also consumes half as much energy as comparable electrical movement systems produced by competitors.
This major innovation also benefits customers by considerably reducing both waste and operating costs.
Living with wind turbines
Wind turbines interfere with radars used for civil aviation, defence systems and weather forecasting, masking aircraft in radar images and triggering false alarms. The issue has led several countries to postpone wind energy projects.
Thales has developed a new material that absorbs broadband radio frequencies. The radar cross-section (RCS) of objects coated with the new material is reduced significantly — up to 99% in the case of wind turbine — thereby reducing interference or eliminating it completely.
This system complements an existing solution consisting of a series of algorithms that enable radars to determine whether a radar echo is an aircraft or a turbine to reduce false alarm rates for air traffic controllers. Thales demonstrated the performance of this system at Scotland's Inverness Airport, which is surrounded by 141 wind turbines.
In today's increasingly urbanised world, creating sustainable conditions for urban mobility and inter-city travel is an important way of reducing CO2.
For over 30 years, Thales has been helping city authorities and large-scale transport network operators to meet increasing demand for more efficient travel. The challenge is clear: to convince committed motorists to switch to other, more efficient modes of transport by offering them options that are cheaper, quicker and more comfortable.
Did you know?
Thales's Seltrac© CBTC solution reduces metro network energy consumption by up to 15% and transports 3 billion passengers a year.
More environmentally responsible metros
Each year, metro and urban rail networks transport over 40 billion passengers worldwide, with less of an environmental impact than cars.
Adjusting traffic to meet passenger needs
Thales's Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) technology for metro lines reduces the time and headway between trains, allowing operators to vary traffic levels according to user needs and making urban rail systems more efficient. The capacity of the London Underground's Jubilee line, for example, was increased by 20% to accommodate visitors during the 2012 Olympic Games. The CBTC system was also deployed in Mecca for the 2010 pilgrimage, transporting up to 72,000 passengers an hour when demand was the highest. The ability to transport large numbers of passengers during peak times is key to meeting the mobility needs of densely populated cities.
Reducing energy consumption by up to 15%
Reducing energy consumption is a top priority for metro operators. Thales's Seltrac© CBTC solution reduces metro network energy consumption by up to 15%. It uses sophisticated algorithms to limit energy-intensive stop/start cycles and switch off power at pre-determined locations so that trains can coast on their own accumulated power whenever possible.
This solution protects the environment while reducing operating costs. For an average metro line, the solution cuts CO2 emissions by around 14,000 tonnes a year, the equivalent of taking 6,000 cars off the road.
Reducing traction energy
Traction energy consumption can be significantly reduced over an entire network by controlling train speeds (slowing trains down when scheduling permits) and optimising timetables in real time to match the number of trains to the level of passenger traffic. By synchronising train departures and arrivals at stations, the braking energy from an arriving train can help a departing train to accelerate.
Optimising energy consumption in stations
Thales's metro command and control systems help optimise electricity consumption in stations through the real-time management of services like lighting, elevators and escalators, which can be turned off or put into sleep mode depending on user needs.
Eco-driving on mainline networks
Optimising electricity consumption is a critical issue for mainline transport networks.
Thales's train traffic management systems reduce electricity consumption by up to 10% by smoothing out wasteful braking and acceleration cycles. For example, through better anticipation and management of train traffic, a train that needs to let another train pass when approaching a signal box will be able to slow down rather than stopping completely. The driver's instrument panel is constantly updated with messages about traffic optimisation, and algorithms take rolling stock and track geometry data into account to adjust the train's speed and maximise energy savings.
More rail traffic and faster trains throughout Europe
Getting more passengers to choose trains over cars is a key environmental goal that can be met by increasing network capacity, reducing travel time and making European networks more interoperable.
Given the high financial and environmental costs of building a new rail network, adding capacity will mainly involve renovating existing networks and using them more efficiently. Europe's answer to these challenges is the European Train Control System (ETCS), which also ensures the interoperability of rail networks across national borders.
Thales's AlTrac ETCS system optimises train power through real-time movement authorisations. Each train follows an individual speed profile that is constantly updated throughout its journey. In Austria, for example, the solution has reduced travel times on the Salzburg-Vienna by 23 minutes, allowing 30% more trains to operate each day.