Tag Archives: Planes

This animation shows how European air traffic has plummeted due to the pandemic

Eurocontrol, the organization managing 90% of Europe’s air traffic, has released data that helps to show just how extreme the drop in air traffic has been across the continent. An animation of the data shows an absolutely stunning drop.

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), air traffic fell by 14.1%worldwide in February, compared to a year ago. But that was just a small taste of what was to come.

In March and April, the decline was closer to 80 or even 90%, with some countries seeing dramatic declines. Portugal’s flights, for instance, declined by a whopping 94%.

“Without a doubt this is the biggest crisis that the industry has ever faced,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

This unprecedented impact meant that over 100 million passenger flights were lost this year, creating a dent of over $20 billion in airlines’ income, and creating massive disturbance around the whole of Europe. By the end of the year, up to 860 million passenger flights would be lost.

Of course, Europe isn’t the only place to see a massive drop in air traffic. As the pandemic has spread all around the globe, all areas are reporting a substantial drop in flights. Europe, where 10% of the population works in tourism, is feeling this very burningly.

So far, many airports in Europe are managing on temporary employment schemes, but this is not a sustainable solution in the long term.

While many airports are managing on temporary employment schemes, this will also translate to a massive decrease in available jobs, and airline workers are eager to receive governmental support.

“This is like nothing we have seen before,” said Olivier Jankovec, director-general of the Airports Council International (ACI) for Europe. “Airports are local jobs machines. They very often are the largest employment site in their communities, regions or even at national level.”

“Restoring air connectivity must be at the forefront of the EU’s exit and recovery strategy.”

Unfortunately, the airline industry will almost certainly be one of the biggest casualties of the economic fallout of the outbreak. Not only are people far less inclined to travel (and in some cases, outright banned from traveling), but social distancing rules can drastically cut the thin profit margins that many airlines are used to working with. As much as we’d like to think the airline industry will make a rebound soon, it’s hard to see a scenario when things get return to normal anytime soon.

NASA plans to make airplanes cleaner and 50% more fuel efficient by reviving the wing truss

NASA plans to improve today’s planes with a blast from the past — re-implementing a structure known as a wing truss would reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions of common commercial aircraft by as much as 50%, according to computational models.

Early aircraft were… Well they were horrible, really. These flimsy cloth-and-wire machines offered their pilots virtually no protection against the cold. Their open cabins also meant that it was impossible to create a pressurized environment so the pilots wouldn’t black out from lack of oxygen at high altitudes. Thankfully that wasn’t much of a problem as their engines barely had enough power to get them off the ground in the first place.

This meant that early pioneers of aircraft design had to squeeze every ounce of lift from their designs, while keeping them as light as possible. Designs such as the biplane, triplane and wacky multiplane generated enough lift even at low speeds but also huge amounts of drag, and were thus limited in maximum speed.

Another piece of technology from the era however, the wing truss, has recently caught NASA engineers’ as a possible avenue for improvement of modern designs.

A wing truss is a support structure connecting the body of the plane to the wing, and can be seen in modern ultra-light prop-planes such as the Cessna 182.

Trust in the truss.
Image credits wikimedia – author unknown.

By transferring part of the strain to the fuselage, trusses allow for longer, thinner but also lighter wings to be constructed without sacrificing lift. Lower weight and improved carrying capacity would translate into lower much more efficient use of engine power, according to NASA:

“Researchers expect the lighter weight, lower drag truss-braced wing to reduce both fuel burn and carbon emissions by at least 50% over current technology transport aircraft, and by 4 to 8% compared to equivalent advanced technology conventional configurations with unbraced wings.”

But there’s a reason trusses were abandoned in the first place: they add drag and disturb the flow of air around the aircraft. But, by using modern digital modeling techniques, engineers can design around this problem.

“Using computational results showing how air would flow around the model, they [the researchers] modify the dimensions and shape of the wing and truss to improve areas that may generate undesirable air flow that would increase drag and reduce lift. Then engineers test models in a wind tunnel using multiple experimental techniques to validate the computations and aircraft performance predictions.’

If higher fuel efficiency and reduced emissions aren’t enough to impress you, there’s another quieter benefit to consider: trussed wings produce less noise during flight, meaning you won’t hear jets roaring overhead anymore.