During his talk at TEDGlobal Edinburgh 2013, the annual conference from the non-profit organisation TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) that took place from 10 to 14 June, Airbus engineer Bastian Schaefer showcased the future of air travel.

On stage with him, Schaefer had a model of an Airbus concept aircraft, the standout feature of which was the elaborate latticework skeleton, referred to by him as “bony structure”. Although it may not necessarily look like it, this structure would be both strong and lightweight, helping to reduce the fuel costs of flying. He explains that the vision incorporates an aircraft structure fashioned from 3D printed carbon nanotubes that enable the infrastructure to transmit data and electricity.

However, this concept plane is just that – a concept. It brings together a package of technologies that are unlikely ever to coexist but represents the main technological fields that are being explored to face future needs, including a cut in emissions, less noise and greater comfort.

Other innovative features within the concept include longer and slimmer wings to better glide through the skies, reducing drag and, in turn, improving fuel efficiency. Also, the fuselage (central body of the aircraft) will no longer be a simple tube, manufactured from composite it can be curved and shaped to improve aerodynamics.

Inside the cabin the designers took inspiration from nature and focussed on the comfort of individual passengers. Features include seats that mould themselves to the passenger’s shape, community areas where passengers can play a round of virtual golf and, instead of windows, a transparent shell encloses the skeletal structure, allowing in natural light by day and a view of the stars by night.

Alongside its own concept plane, Airbus has also challenged students from around the world to develop concepts for the future, with a particular focus on sustainability. The winners of this year’s biennial Airbus ‘Fly Your Ideas’ competition, which was announced last week, went to a team of students from the University of São Paulo in Brazil for its air-powered baggage-handling concept. This luggage loading and unloading system for airplane cargo compartments reduces the workload of airport baggage handlers with an air-cushion solution inspired by air hockey tables.

The runner-up prize went to a team from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), Australia, for its proposal to develop aircraft fuelled by a blend of sustainably produced liquefied biomethane and liquefied natural gas (Bio-LNG).

The winning team will be at the Paris Airshow, which is currently taking place until 23 June, where no doubt many more innovative aircraft designs and concepts will be unveiled.

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