Gearing Up for the Future of Air Travel

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By Dr. Alan Epstein

Global economic growth is adding millions of people annually to the world’s middle class, posing one of the most exciting – but challenging – opportunities to sustainable urbanization.

As growth in the middle class continues to expand, history tells us they will increase consumption of goods and services, traveling more for business and pleasure. Consider, for example, that the number of commercial aircraft is projected to significantly increase over the next 15 years, from about 26,000 today to approximately 46,000 by 2030.

Increased air travel will deliver untold benefits as more people conduct business and connect with other cultures far from home. But this increase in travel highlights the need to make air travel more sustainable.

At United Technologies, we are inspired by challenges like these because we pride ourselves on doing big things that others cannot. Around the world, our engineers, scientists and other professionals invent new and better ways to keep people safe, comfortable, productive and on the move – all in a more sustainable way.

Geared Turbofan Engine Technology: A revolution in commercial aviation

Consider air travel. Two decades ago, UTC’s Pratt & Whitney business envisioned a design change that would revolutionize the jet engine. By adding a gear, Pratt & Whitney could create a vastly more efficient and sustainable engine to power the world’s commercial aircraft.

While simple in concept, the creation of a working Geared Turbofan engine took ingenuity and talent to develop something this complex. Now 20 years and $10 billion later, this innovation is reshaping the commercial aviation industry, delivering real benefits for airline operators, travelers and the environment immediately on entry into service.

Pratt & Whitney’s new PurePower engine with Geared Turbofan technology – which entered service earlier this year – lowers fuel consumption by 16 percent, while simultaneously cutting regulated emissions by 50 percent. The engine’s annual fuel savings will cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by over 3,600 metric tons per aircraft every year.

In addition to the environmental benefits, the engine also delivers a 75 percent reduction in overall noise footprint. That means less noise pollution in communities surrounding airports. How much less? At takeoff, about 500,000 fewer people will be able to hear a Geared Turbofan engine-powered airplane, compared to a conventional aircraft at the same airport. A quieter engine means a more enjoyable experience for people on the ground and passengers in the sky.

Green aviation starts here

The Geared Turbofan engine is the future of sustainable aviation. To date, Pratt & Whitney has logged more than 7,000 orders for the new engine, an unprecedented number. The engine is currently in service in Germany and India, and we expect it will be flying on commercial planes in the North and South America in the near future.

Innovation of this magnitude isn’t fast or easy. But it is possible and the environmental benefits are enormous. At UTC, we live for game-changing innovation and this “green engine” truly changes everything.

Image credit: Pixabay

Dr. Alan H. Epstein is vice president of Technology and Environment at Pratt & Whitney, a United Technologies Corp. Dr. Epstein is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and a fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He received his B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in aeronautics and astronautics.

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