Towards safer, smarter, more sustainable skies
Saab has played a key role in the Clean Sky research programmes run by the European Commission and European aeronautics industry since 2008. Clean Sky board member and Saab employee Göran Bengtsson explains why these initiatives are so important for Saab, the industry, and society as a whole.
What is Clean Sky?
Clean Sky is a public-private partnership between the European Commission and the European Aeronautics Industry that researches and develops technological innovations to reduce CO2, gas emissions and noise levels, while also ensuring the industry remains competitive for the long-term.
The programme was established because the aeronautics industry is a crucial part of the European Union’s efforts to achieve net zero emissions and counteract global heating.
“By combining the structure and finances of the European Commission with the expertise of the aeronautics industry, Clean Sky aims to produce a new generation of aircraft that can reduce carbon emissions and fuel consumption, helping Europe become carbon neutral by 2050,” says Göran Bengtsson, Senior Strategic Planning and Development Analyst at Saab, who has been on the governing board of both Clean Sky and its successor, Clean Sky 2.
“It’s important to have the European Commission’s support with the necessary technological demonstrations. The industry cannot finance them by itself because they’re too large and too costly.”
As a key member of the aeronautics industry, Saab has had a prominent role in Clean Sky’s two iterations, Clean Sky 1 and Clean Sky 2 (a further project, Clean Aviation, is due to launch in 2021).
Along with Airbus, Saab has been research lead in Smart Fixed-Wing Aircraft, one of the original Clean Sky programme’s six designated areas of research, or Integrated Technology Demonstrators (ITDs). Saab was also involved in two other areas: Systems for Green Operations and Technology Evaluator. And in Clean Sky 2, Saab is involved in three ITDs – Airframe, Systems and Large Passenger Aircraft.
In both cases, the main focus of Saab’s work is researching and developing lighter parts such as wings and doors, that reduce drag and cut fuel consumption and emissions. It also positions Saab as a key supplier of airframes and systems to Airbus for the next-generation aircraft expected sometime after 2030.
“Saab is a major player in the European aeronautics industry, both as a military aircraft manufacturer and as a supplier of parts to civilian aircraft, so it’s been very important for us to be part of Clean Sky,” says Bengtsson.
“For example, our involvement in the BLADE demonstrator wouldn’t have happened without the European Commission and the programme’s backing due to the size and cost.
“From a business perspective, Saab needed to secure that work with Airbus. Today we’re producing parts that sit on every Airbus aircraft. We’re a specialised supplier in areas such as doors, cargo doors, wing structures and movables, where we can use our expertise in composite design and composite manufacturing technology.”
Are we making progress?
Clean Sky 1 aimed to reduce air traffic emissions by 40% and nitrogen oxide emissions by 60%, as well as reduce noise levels by 20dB. Göran Bengtsson says there has been significant progress.
“The first iteration of Clean Sky was about developing technologies that have the possibility of contributing greatly to the reduction of fuel consumption and emissions from the next generation of civil aircraft.
“Engine development, structural development, how to build aircraft lighter, how to reduce drag on the aircraft and how to use new systems that would help the airliner and pilot navigate in the most efficient way regarding fuel consumption.
“The technology in Clean Sky 1 has gone a long way towards meeting the goals, although they have still to be integrated in the new aircraft that will enter the market around 2030, 2035. These aircraft will have a laminar flow wing, a highly optimised engine to reduce fuel consumption, and will likely reduce the fuel consumption by double digits compared with the A320 Neo that’s flying today.”
From a Saab point of view, Clean Sky 2 continues to innovate weight reductions, pilot support systems and secure the European supply chain, while the next iteration, Clean Aviation in Horizon Europe, will have a much clearer remit to address how to achieve net zero emissions, to make the industry become as sustainable as possible. Hybrid electric engines and renewable ‘e-fuels’ including hydrogen are already on the agenda.
“These aircraft will be built in another way, possibly with a more advanced configuration, so it’s important for Saab to be involved. Ultimately, with these projects, I believe that the European industry will be a global leader regarding climate-neutral aviation, competitive and more sustainable with new aircrafts entering the world market by around 2035.”