The increasing environmental awareness within the European society is challenging the aviation sector to intensify its efforts towards a greener, cleaner and more sustainable aviation, by reducing its environmental impact in terms on consumption, waste and emissions connected to all aviation activities and operations. The principles of circularity, or circular economy, shall provide a framework to re-evaluate the complete, cradle-to-cradle, life cycle of each aspect of aviation, enabling the transition to circular aviation.
The vision of FlightPath 2050 describes how aviation will be actively engaged in “protecting the environment and the energy supply”, providing “sustainable […] connectivity for passengers and freights”, and “protecting the environment and enabling the use of sustainable energy and alternative energy sources”.
Insofar sustainability in aviation mainly referred to reducing polluting emissions from operations; therefore, the focus has been on high efficiency gas engines, lightweight solutions, alternative fuels and (hybrid-) electric solutions. Though useful, this approach only covers part of the lifecycle of an aircraft, and only a limited amount of the overall energy consumption and pollution emissions related to aviation. Recently, sustainability has also approached aspects related to production and manufacturing, both the traditional manufacturing process for old aircraft, and the recent, innovative processes and advanced materials for new aircraft designs. Although the design and manufacture of recyclable air vehicle is one of FlightPath 2050’s goals, most aspects such as production, end-of-life solutions, maintenance and (most of) operations of aircraft and airports have been neglected in the life cycle analysis.
Circular economy principles focus on minimizing systematic leakages and negative externalities; such principles can enhance the already ongoing research activities and industrial implementations of more sustainable solutions in aviation, by expanding their current fields of application (from local to global) and by initiating new applications. Applying sustainable solutions only locally will never allow achieving the reduction in emissions desired to reduce the effects of the climate change. The overall aircraft lifecycle, from cradle to cradle, needs to be reassessed.
During the design phase, the cost of the entire lifecycle (cradle-to-cradle, including resourcing raw materials and disposal at end of life) shall be evaluated and design decisions based on this. Design solutions incorporating recycled materials and/or with focus on extended durability and ease to repair, disassemble, and reuse, shall be encouraged.
During the manufacturing process, the environmental impact is managed through a better control of used materials, reducing waste and energy consumption at manufacturing facilities and rationalizing the logistics (for example, favouring local production). First-time-right solutions are fully integrated in the workflow.
During operations, the full operational status can be maintained by integrating the information from the structural health monitoring system with the repair solutions designed synergistically with the aircraft itself. Refurbishment is favoured by modular design of structural components and interiors.
At the end of an aircraft lifecycle, the objective is to reuse and recycle up to 95% of aircraft parts, with particular focus on including composite materials used in aircraft manufacturing.
Under the umbrella of Future Sky Theme 6 on Circular Aviation, every research topic concerning aviation could be placed. A limited, and therefore by far not exhaustive, list of topics, which should be object of research, is:
– Choice of materials;
– Design to improve durability, structural integrity and ease to repair, to upgrade…;
– Design for modularity;
– Design for disassemble, in order to maximize the recovery of valuable materials and components,
– Reduce scrap and waste by first-time-right approaches;
– Improve efficient use of tooling / flexible manufacturing.
– Operational use of the aircraft (already part of programs like SESAR, not part of this FS theme);
– Alternative propulsion like (hybrid-)electric (already part of Energy theme);
– Alternative fuels (id.);
– Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO).
– Recycling of materials;
– Reuse of components and systems.
– Zero emission and zero waste airports;
– Integration of airport infrastructures with community infrastructures.
– No waste flights;
– All electric ground operations.
- Policy and regulation
– Encourage reuse and recycle projects
- Business models
– For airlines (for example, ownership versus lease or co-sharing of aircrafts);
– For airports;
– For manufacturers.