It’s interesting to look at current trends and think about where we may be 20 years from now. Of course, half the fun is the unpredictability of the industry and emerging technologies. Once thought to be the future of aviation, who could have guessed that the Airbus A380 would fail in the way that it has? Same with the Concorde and supersonic travel. In this article we’ll look further into the future and take some educated guesses about what could follow the Boeing 797.
Aside from negative press surrounding production, Boeing has made quite a big splash in the commercial aviation world with its 787 Dreamliner. Entering service in 2011, the integration of new technologies for advancements in passenger comfort and fuel efficiency has left us wanting more ever since.
Beyond the 797
At this time we are all anxiously awaiting an official announcement about the next new model of Boeing aircraft. This New Midsize Airplane (NMA) is likely to have the name 797 and it’s still anyone’s guess when we will get more information. However, Boeing have said that the 737 MAX crisis will not delay the development of the 797.
I think the key feature that will always dominate the future aircraft discussion is fuel economics. With one of the largest expenses in the industry being fuel, airlines rise and collapse with the price of it. Therefore, any aircraft designed beyond the 797 will most certainly be lightweight with advanced engines. Composite materials are a must!
To that end, several ideas have been thrown out into the world:
A BBC article from last year made a case for windowless planes- the windows being replaced by electronic screens with projected images. It featured a discussion with Emirates President Sir Tim Clark:
“Imagine now a fuselage as you’re boarding with no windows, but when you get inside, there are windows…Now you have one fuselage which has no structural weaknesses because of windows. The aircraft are lighter, the aircraft could fly faster, they’ll burn far less fuel and fly higher.”
Lighter? Faster? More structurally sound? Sounds like some great selling points. Although who knows if the public is ready for something so potentially claustrophobia-inducing.
Electric or hybrid propulsion
Could we see the same advancements in electric automobiles crossover to aviation? According to CNBC, Zunum Aero is planning a hybrid-electric airplane that has been backed by venture arms at Boeing and JetBlue Airways. However, this project is only a 12-passenger project. On a larger scale it may still be too far away.
This recent article about the Airbus and Siemens collaboration being cut-short is a strong indication that large-scale electric aviation is decades down the road. In November 2017, Siemens, Airbus and Rolls Royce announced plans for a 100-seater regional jet with a hybrid electric drive turbine by 2020. Unfortunately there is no longer any talk of close cooperation.
So we can scratch that off the list for now. But who knows, maybe some huge leaps in battery technology will happen soon?
A 737 successor
Maybe what’s needed most for Boeing is a complete overhaul of their 737 program. We know now that the 737 MAX issues all stem from an attempt to fit larger and more efficient engines into an old airframe that was too low to the ground.
A previous post considers a fresh re-design of the 737 instead of the 797. This post considers the possibility after the 797. Thinking about how prevalent the 737 has been in commercial aviation over the last 50 years, and how much damage the ‘brand name’ has suffered in the last few months, Boeing needs to do something to push that program forward.
Looking past the 797, all we can say for now is that we can expect future Boeing aircraft to be more fuel efficient with lighter materials and more efficient engines. Do you have any ideas and guesses about the future of aviation? Is there anything you’d like to see in a brand new plane? Let us know in the comments.