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More passengers, more aircrafts, more efficiency - aviation relies on composites

10 July 2019


Passenger and freight figures in aviation have been rising for years. In Germany alone, experts at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) expect average annual growth of around 3.3 percent and an additional 70 million passengers by the year 2030. In addition to an increasing demand for aircrafts, this also means further increases in their efficiency.

According to the Federal Association of the German Air Transport Industry (BDL), German airlines have reduced their fuel consumption per passenger by 43 percent since 1990. But in view of the rapidly increasing traffic in the sky, further measures are needed. By way of comparison, in 1990 an average aircraft consumed 6.3 liters of kerosene per passenger per 100 kilometers, while last year the fleet consumed only 3.58 liters of kerosene on the same route. This is a new efficiency record.

Aviation as a classic composite application area

A decisive factor here are lightweight construction concepts, in which fibre composites will continue to play an important role. In the current composites market survey of January 2019, aviation is considered to be a classic area of application from which significant growth impulses are expected. This is also confirmed by the authors of the composites market report 2018. According to this report, the expected market growth for fiber-reinforced plastics (FRP) in the aerospace industry up to 2020 is about 15 percent.

The aerospace industry also remains extremely important for carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). According to the market report, the sector has established itself as a strongly dominant sales segment and accounts for about 56 percent (USD 12.91 billion) of total carbon composite (CC) sales, although only about 36 percent (55,310 metric tons) of the worldwide CC demand is required.

The report refers in particular to the current core models of the major manufacturers. The Boeing B787 and Airbus A350XWB are largely made of CC. Both models are currently still in the production ramp-up phase in order to meet the increasing demand of the airlines. "In addition, new models such as the Boeing 777X and not least the Chinese COMAC C919 rely on CC in their material selection in large proportions within their structure. But even the models with particularly high quantities, such as the Airbus A319/20/21neo series, use CC in several assemblies such as the engine cowling (CFM LEAP).

Composites in the military

However, not only civil aviation, but also the military relies on CFRP materials. According to the market report, the F-35, Boeing KC-46, Airbus A400M and Embraer KC-390 aircraft programmes, as well as the V-22 Osprey, Black Hawk, Sikorsky CH-53K and Airbus H160 helicopter programmes, are the main sources of stable demand. This was also evident at the Farnborough International Airshow, one of the industry's most important sales events.

In this context, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) published its estimate of a 7.6 percent growth in revenue passenger mile in 2017, "while increasing environmental and noise requirements and the development of more efficient propulsion systems lead to a higher replacement rate of older aircraft models and to retrofit programs (helicopter rotor blades, aircraft engines), which also increases CC demand," the authors write.

In addition, current activities in the space sector have already had a positive impact on the composites market. "Increased privatization and the pressure of competition are expected to accelerate growth in the coming years. Innovative companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin are already providing a vision of future space technology and are increasingly focusing on composite materials, for example in boosters, fairings and cargo doors. For this sector, a very positive outlook can already be outlined for the coming years," predict the experts.

You can read in the interview with Claude Maack, Managing Director of space supplier GRADEL, how the market for composites in space travel will develop.

These exhibitors will be presenting their aerospace products at the 2019 trade fair.


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