New Large Aircraft
The term New Large Aircraft is generally used to describe the new aircraft being developed by Airbus Industrie that have wingspans and lengths substantially greater than today's Boeing 747 aircraft, weigh up to 1.2 million pounds, and have a seating capacity ranging from 555 to 880 passengers. Airbus calls its NLA the A380. These aircraft, bigger than the largest passenger aircraft today, would be put into long distance nonstop service to highly capacity constrained airports, such as London and Tokyo.
In the 1990s airlines and aircraft manufacturers began discussing the future requirement for a new large aircraft (NLA) capable of carrying between 500 and 1,000 passengers that, as a result, will weigh in excess of 1 million pounds. By the late 1990s deliveries of these types of aircraft were expected to begin in 5 to 10 years. As might be expected, new large aircraft would be significantly greater in length, width, and height. In fact, every dimension of the new large aircraft would be greater than those of current aircraft.
Development of new large aircraft is being explored by Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, and Airbus Industries. Each plan to develop its own family of "super-jumbo" jets. Many of the planned aircraft are larger derivatives of aircraft that are already flying. Other new aircraft, however, are based on completely new designs that are unlike anything currently in production. Announced specifications have undergone continuous alteration with changes ranging from simple size adjustments to dramatic redesign of the entire aircraft. Some aircraft that were originally planned as a double-deck design have been scaled down to traditional single-deck configurations. When the Boeing Aircraft Corporation first introduced the 747, the FAA upgraded its standards and guidance material to accommodate the larger than the typical aircraft. Numerous terminal, runway, taxiway, and pavement design criteria were carefully reviewed to identify problems or conflicts that would be created with the introduction of the jumbo jet.
- "Very Large Civil Transport" (VLCT) , which was proposed as a cooperative effort between several aircraft manufacturers, was no longer under consideration by 1998. The concept was to develop an 800-plus passenger aircraft designed and constructed by a worldwide consortium of aircraft manufacturers.
- B747-600X - The Boeing 747-600X was to be a larger derivative of the B747-400, scheduled for introduction in late 2000. The 600X will have a redesigned wing, increased engine size, 20-wheel main gear, 4-wheel nose gear, and a fuselage stretch of 47 feet. The airplane would have a significantly increased weight capacity, a longer range, be capable of carrying 548 passengers, and have a MTOW of 1.2 million pounds.
- B747-500X - The Boeing 747-500X was to be a larger derivative of the B747-400, scheduled for delivery in late 2001. Physically, it is a shorter version of the 600X. The 500X will feature all of the modifications comprising the 600X but will have a 28-foot shorter fuselage. Its reduced size will enable it to fly over 1,000 nautical miles farther than the 600X while carrying a payload comparable to that of the 400. The 500X would also have a MTOW in excess of 1 million pounds.
- MD-XX - The MD-XX was a newly proposed derivative of the MD-11. Preliminary MD-XX design features include a 31-foot stretched fuselage, redesigned wing, three post main landing gear, and three higher thrust engines. Aside from the stretched fuselage, the operational and physical dimensions of the aircraft would be comparable to those of the MD-11. Passenger capacity would increase by 25 percent, up to 360 passengers. The MD-XX replaces the double-deck MD-12X that was under consideration by McDonnell Douglas.
- MD-XX LR (Long Range) - The MD-XX LR was a proposed derivative of the baseline MD-XX that would include many of the improved modifications of the MD-XX, with a reduction in the fuselage length to 204 feet. The wingspan would remain the same for the LR version.
- A380-100 - The Airbus A3XX-100 was an entirely new aircraft that was initially scheduled to be introduced into service by 2003. The A3XX-100, unlike other currently planned aircraft, would feature a double-deck design capable of holding 555 passengers and 187,000 pounds of cargo when full. The aircraft would be 232 feet long, 79 feet tall, and have a 259-foot wingspan. MTOW would be approximately 1.1 million pounds, supported by a four-strut, 24-wheel main landing gear.
- A3XX-200 - The Airbus A3XX-200 was a stretched derivative of the A3XX-100 that was considered for production after the 100 is introduced. The aircraft will be identical to the 100, except for the addition of a 22-foot fuselage section. This stretch would accommodate an additional 101 passengers, bringing the total passenger capacity up to 656. The MTOW for the 200 would be 1.21 million pounds.
The Airbus A380 was the only one of these projects to reach fruition. In Airbus' view, the future of the LCA market lies with very large aircraft capable of long flights that will fill a growing demand for "hub-and-spoke" airline operations. Airbus feels that larger aircraft are necessary to mitigate growing congestion at the finite number of gates that airports have available. In keeping with this market view, Airbus developed the A380 "super-jumbo" aircraft in the early 2000s. Several versions are planned, with seating capacity ranging from 555 to 850 passengers. Ushering in a new era in air travel, Kennedy International Airport on 01 August 2008 welcomed more than 500 passengers and crew when Emirates Airline Flight 3801 from Dubai completed its first US scheduled flight of the Airbus A380, the world's largest passenger aircraft.
Airbus and Boeing differ in their visions of the future market for large civil aircraft. Boeing concluded that the market for A380-size aircraft was limited. It has, therefore, settled on the concept of producing a new class of higher speed commercial aircraft, the B787 Dreamliner. Following its acquisition of McDonnell Douglas in 1997, Boeing is now the only U.S. manufacturer of large civil aircraft.
Boeing believes that the future of civil aviation lies with so-called "point-to-point" airline operations. In Boeing's view, passengers' demand for non-stop service will trump their interest in lower fares that may be achieved with one or more intermediate stops. Consequently, Boeing predicts airline fleets will be composed of large numbers of aircraft with relatively smaller passenger capacities, with a mix of models capable of short, medium and long-range operations. In keeping with its market projection, Boeing developed its latest aircraft, the 787 Dreamliner, with fewer seats than the Airbus A380, and somewhat fewer than the last aircraft Boeing developed, the 777.
Aircraft composite materials consist of fine fibers and resins that are bonded together to form a strong material. NLA are being designed with higher percentages of composites than ever before. The Airbus A380 will be 25% by weight composites including 23% carbon fiber-reinforced polymer and 3% GLARE fiberglass reinforced aluminum. Airbus has plans to expand the use of composites on future aircraft, which would further change the fire extinguishing characteristics of the aircraft. Composite fires tend to be deep seated (similar to a charcoal fire), continue to smolder internally and require copious amounts of water to fully extinguish.
It is anticipated that the development of NLA would continue in the future, bringing newer, larger transport aircraft from each of the three major aircraft manufacturers. The ultimate size of these new aircraft is not certain but can be projected by following industry trends in aircraft design. The introduction of a new aircraft model is triggered by a manufacturer's desire to enter a particular niche in the competitive transport aircraft market. The new aircraft is designed to specially fit the market niche with the appropriate range capability, passenger capacity, and operating characteristics to make it attractive to prospective airline customers. Manufacturers are targeting most NLA for service on long-range, high-capacity international routes throughout the world.
Traditionally, aircraft manufacturers begin the aircraft development process by introducing a baseline model of an aircraft that can later be modified to carry more weight and travel further distances. This is true with aircraft families like the Boeing 747. The original B747-100 was introduced in 1970 as the largest transport aircraft of its time. Over the next twenty-six years, the B747 grew through the 100, 200, 300, and 400 versions. Within each of these models, several different weight or cargo versions have also been introduced into service. NLA will undoubtedly follow the same type of growth pattern.
The average weight of commercial aircraft has increased consistently over the last thirty years. The trend in aircraft maximum takeoff weights for large aircraft introduced since 1960 demonstrates how the upward trend in aircraft weight can be expected to continue to increase with the introduction of first and future generations of NLA.
Commercial transport aircraft have also increased in wingspan length over the last several years. The largest wingspan included in FAA design Group V is 171 feet (52 meters) up to but not including 214 feet (65 meters), while design Group VI is 214 feet (65 meters) up to 262 feet (80 meters). Some NLA designs could be classified in the largest airplane design group category, Group VI, recognized by the FAA, but the only NLA to enter service as of 2010 had a wingspan of 210 feet. Current trends in aircraft wingspans indicate that they will continue to grow but may be curved to remain within the parameters of current design Group VI criteria. It is anticipated that the curve will reach a plateau and result in maximum values at or below 262 feet for two reasons. The first is that the development of higher efficiency wings will permit the carrying of more weight without an increase in size. The second reason, actually an unavoidable restriction, is that airports will be unable to fit aircraft that are much larger than 262 feet on their taxiways and runways without compromising the required separation standards for aircraft operating at the airport. The future demand for faster transport aircraft may also influence the trend in wingspan length, as they will most likely be equipped with swept wings for faster flight.
Other design characteristics of future NLA that can be predicted based on historical trends are the fuselage length, tail height, and landing gear wheelbase. These three elements, in general, are very closely related to each other. The wheelbase of the aircraft is typically a function of the fuselage length; the longer the fuselage, the longer the required wheelbase. Likewise, as the size of the aircraft increases, the height of the aircraft increases. Future derivatives of NLA are also expected to continue to grow in size and may be expected to have fuselage lengths upwards of 280 to 300 feet. As a result, they can also be expected to have wheelbase values upwards of 140 to 150 feet and tail heights over 80 feet.
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