LONDON (Reuters) - Over 60 percent of people worldwide want to fly more by 2050, but almost all - 96 percent - believe aircraft need to be more environmentally efficient, according to a study from aircraft-maker Airbus.
With findings drawn from a 10,000-strong survey, the planemaker also consulted with 1.75 million people in 192 countries over a two-year period to better understand the public perception of air travel’s future.
Released three days before the Farnborough International Airshow, the study indicates that quieter aircraft are important (backed by 66 percent of respondents), while almost 40 percent felt the air-travel experience is increasingly stressful.
Respondents’ gripes included queues at passport control; slow check-in and baggage collection; sitting on the tarmac; and circling in holding patterns around airports.
“Capacity constraints are a sign of things to come unless the industry can work together to cut delays, and with aviation set to double in the next 15 years, that’s what we’re looking at,” Airbus executive vice president, engineering Charles Champion said in a press statement.
Airbus, part of European aerospace group EADS, carried out the research alongside development of a “Concept Plane” which illustrates what air transport could look like as early as 2030, though more likely by 2050.
The graceful, spaceship-like prototype brandishes long, slim wings; semi-embedded engines; a U-shaped tail and light-weight fuselage. The result, Airbus says, will be lower fuel burn and a significant cut in emissions.
Airbus has also rethought cabin configuration, replacing first, business and economy classes with personalized zones. Passengers would be able to stargaze through a transparent wall membrane from “morphing” seats that harvest body heat for power.
Champion told Reuters the Concept was built to add to the debate and try to visualize what future flight could look like.
“We wanted to know if people still wanted to fly - what are the priorities of the generation of today. It was an interesting exercise and enthusiasm for flight has motivated our engineers into designing great new ways to fly in the future.”
Despite social media and video messaging revolutionizing the way people keep in touch, 60 percent of respondents in the Airbus study did not think technology will replace the need to see contacts face-to-face.
“Aviation is the real World Wide Web,” Champion said. “The world is woven together by a web of flights that creates ever-expanding social and economic networks: 57 million jobs, 35 percent of world trade, and $2.2 trillion in global GDP.
Airbus says that more than 90 percent of the 2 billion euros it spends annually on research and development is directed at improving the environmental performance of its aircraft, and points out that a passenger on its flagship A380 uses just three litres of fuel to travel 100km - the same as a small family car.
Once it enters service in late 2015, the A320neo’s engines will, the planemaker predicts, provide up to 15 percent in fuel savings, while the lightweight carbon-plastic A350 XWB is set to provide a 25 percent step-change in fuel efficiency from its planned early-2014 launch.
The aviation industry as a whole has, says Airbus, reduced fuel burn and emissions by 70 percent and noise by 75 percent in the last 40 years. Carbon neutral growth is a target for 2020, with a 50 percent net CO2 emissions reduction by 2050.
Half of these savings will come from better air traffic management, says Airbus.
In the meantime, the planemaker isn’t finding local environmental regulations helpful. Airbus has blamed European Union moves to tackle carbon emissions for the suspension of long-distance jet orders worth up to $14 billion, and has backed China’s refusal to accept the EU’s emissions trading scheme.
Opponents of the scheme, which include the United States and other nations, have called for a unilateral emission-reduction plan from ICAO, the United Nations body which oversees civil aviation, to be agreed by all 191 members.
Editing by Mark Potter