SpeedNews drew 540 delegates for its back-to-back aviation suppliers’ conferences March 4-6, 2013, at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Beverly Hills, Calif., USA. The conferences provided a global, in-depth look at the $166.6 billion aviation industry market and its suppliers—and attempted to explain why aviation has been flying high while most of the world economy has been crawling.
World air travel has grown 5 percent per year since 1980, in spite of 9/11 and other challenges. Richard Aboulafia, VP for Teal Group Corp. A&D analysts, graphs 57 percent growth between 2008 and 2012. The main reasons suggested for this surprising growth were low interest rates combined with new technologies, including lightweight composite materials, that reduce fuel consumption and thus combat rising fuel costs.
Composite demand is expected to grow 10 percent per year, according to Dr. Kevin Michaels, vice president of ICF SH&E, aviation consultants based in Ann Arbor, Mich., USA. Michaels notes that the new wing designs can be made out of composites in ways “you can’t make them out of metals.” For 2012, Michaels shows composites total buy weight at 4 percent, or 48 million lb out of a total of 1.20 billion lb in raw material; and 16 percent, or $1.4 billion of the total $8.7 billion (with Boeing and Airbus aircraft accounting for nearly 70 percent of the total).
Boeing’s Jim Haas, director of product marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, expressed the company’s satisfaction with the composite structure of its 787 Dreamliner and with its decision to go that route, in spite of delays caused by the technology learning curve and partner distribution. “Things are going well now,” he states. (Regarding its lithium ion battery failure, Haas says Boeing has been working with outside and inside technology teams to diagnose the problem and find a solution. The proposed solution will provide three layers of protection and has now been approved for flight-testing by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. Boeing has not stopped nor delayed production on the 787, believing the problem will be suitably resolved.)
Airbus is using 40 tons of composites every day, and its A350 is more than 50 percent composites. David Williams, VP procurement for Airbus, forecast a demand for more than 27,000 new aircraft in the next 20 years, with single aisle dominating.
Single-aisle narrowbodies are expected to dominate the entire commercial aviation market in coming years. Bombardier’s new single-aisle CSeries jet has a composite wing (being built in Belfast, Ireland). Embraer has used composites in doors and other secondary structure in its RJ models, and is considering composites for primary structure on its new E-175. Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp., formed in 2008 by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, is introducing an MRJ series having a composite empennage structure and all flight control surfaces.
Look for a fuller report on the SpeedNews conference in the May 2013 issue of High-Peformance Composites magazine.