Airbus Feasibility Demonstrator Fello’fly takes to the skies for the first time

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Airbus feasibility demonstrator project dubbed as fello’fly took to the skies for the first time as two Airbus A350 aircraft – flying three kilometers apart, from Toulouse, France, to Montreal, Canada – tested and demonstrated the long-haul formation flight in an attempt to demonstrate how the flying together can reduce carbon emissions and save on fuel consumption, through assessing the technical, operational and commercial viability of two aircraft flying close together during long-haul flights.

Inspired by biomimicry and based on Wake Energy Retrieval (WER) – a concept introduced in 2019, and part of the airframers’s subsidiary UpNext – WER replicates the behavior of birds, which fly together to reduce their energy consumption.

While we’ve all seen birds flying in the “V” formation in the sky, the revolutionary concept aims to fly two aircraft relatively close together to allow the follower aircraft to retrieve energy lost by a leader aircraft by flying in the smooth draft of air the wake creates.

Sabine Klauke, chief technical officer at Airbus said, “This demonstration flight is a concrete example of our commitment to making our decarbonization roadmap a reality. It also speaks to how collaboration across the industry will be key to making this happen.”

We have received a strong level of support for this project from our airline and air traffic partners, plus regulators. The opportunity to get this deployed for passenger aircraft around the middle of this decade is very promising. Imagine the potential if fello’fly was deployed across the industry.”

Nick Macdonald Fello’fly Project leader, Airbus said, “The theory about wake energy retrieval has been around for a long time. However it is only fairly recently that flight testing by numerous aerospace organisations proved the size of the benefits. In 2016, at Airbus we performed our first flight tests and found over 10% instantaneous fuel and emissions reductions.”

However, fello’fly remains a technology demonstrator” emphasizes Nick Macdonald. “Plans for the future, in particular regarding making the technology commercially available, depend entirely on the outcomes of these demonstrations.

The big strategic issue here is all about the speed at which our industry can innovate, by which I mean move technology into real airline operations” says Nick. “There are two aspects to this challenge, which are first that the regulatory framework is available to support the use of technology, and second that the operational players are able to use it.

“At this stage, we are looking primarily at the transatlantic flow, as a starting point. At a later stage, it will be necessary to study implementation in other regions in order to prepare global deployment. Then on the regulatory side, there is a challenge to have the regulations in place to allow the new regulatory minima for two aircraft flying 3km apart, and with a new division of responsibility for maintaining their separation. Assuming we demonstrate the viability, we anticipate the technology could be available around 2025. We would need regulations to be updated in advance to support this timeline, and the environmental contribution that fello’fly can make.”

Fello’fly is a demonstrator project set to boost the environmental performance of aircraft and help the industry towards its target to reduce CO2 emissions by 50% by 2050.

But how complex will it be to put fello’fly into place technically, operationally and commercially?


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