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Fledgling company says its flagship product could revolutionise flight in the coming years
The ‘bullet’ airplane that could revolutionize aviation
When Boeing unveiled its new, superjumbo-sized airplane in 2011, the event was all the rage. The world had never seen a passenger plane like it before. But when it comes to how practical a range of this new model is, in reality, it was really more of a one-off.
Now, a new startup company is hoping to change that by developing what it says will be the world’s first “bullet aircraft”. A well-known miniaturization company, Element 21, unveiled its latest prototype on Wednesday. The point of such a plane is not to make more rooms available for passengers or better connections for airlines.
Instead, the company says its “bullet” aircraft would allow carriers to dramatically reduce operating costs. The main advantage could be a shorter route for airlines while cutting per-passenger fuel and aircraft maintenance costs.
“Today, airliners weigh about 300 tonnes, so just imagine what a lot lighter aircraft could mean in terms of fuel savings, lower operating costs and the ability to eventually run more routes without subsidies,” said Raymond Lahey, CEO of Element 21.
The prototype, which is still a work in progress, is over 20m long and can hold 110 people. It could potentially carry up to 220 passengers and “could play a crucial role in the restructuring of airline operating costs as costs are passed on to consumers,” according to Lahey.
Another route on which the bullet could revolutionize flight is in replacing smaller planes for short-haul routes between European cities. Since several European countries are interested in joining the European Economic Area, and with the UK planning to leave the European Union, this could be a cheaper option for them.
According to Element 21, its aircraft can be built with just about any standard passenger gear – seats, flaps, engines and cabins.
Because of its aerodynamic nature, the tiny plane could be custom built with special cargo boxes to boost fuel efficiency, as well as increase landing distance.
Another aspect of the aircraft that can help save on fuel costs is its location. Most passenger planes are about 50km from their destination. The bullet could go much further on shorter trips between places like the west coast of the US or north of the UK.
Unlike many multi-jet aircraft or superjumbos, which take two or more engines to operate, the bullet could only use one – thus saving quite a bit of fuel.
So if not single engine, what would be next? Quartz notes the company is also considering using a hybrid engine that converts an existing plane engine into one with no moving parts. Not only does this require fewer people but could also be used in smaller planes.