Aeronauts rethink the seaplane as a long-haul solution

Signal of change / Aeronauts rethink the seaplane as a long-haul solution

By Gillian Phair / 30 Jun 2015

The long-haul seaplane, which is able to fly over a much greater distance than a conventional seaplane, is being explored as the new trajectory for trans-Atlantic travel by London based Aeronautics academics Dr Levis and Professor Varnavas Serghides. 

 

 

Their streamlined design concept tackles the engineering flaws of the conventional seaplane. For instance, the new design incorporates bat-like ‘blended’ wings as an alternative to the 'tip float': a weighty component of conventional seaplanes that adds stability but also drag. The designers aim to place the engine on the top of the plane to combat the risk of water logging and noise pollution below.

 

 

So far, the jumbo seaplane is only a concept, but Levis and Serghides are optimistic about the future for long-haul seaplane travel. The tools, materials and technologies need to facilitate its creation already exist. They estimate jumbo seaplanes are about 10 years from realisation. 

 

 

Although to be more fuel sustainable than conventional airplanes, jumbo seaplanes would have to hold over 800 passengers. Dr Levis admits "[jumbo seaplanes] still couldn't quite beat what the current state-of-the-art land planes consume, especially at smaller sizes". 

 

 

However, there is a possibility for large planes to store and run on hydrogen fuel, which offers  a much more sustainable solution to jet fuel.

 

 

Image: Future landing? 
Image credit: Tom Wigley / Flickr

So what?

Aeroplanes are embedded in our global travel network, acting as a driver for global connectivity, but also a major driver of greenhouse gas emissions. Do seaplanes offer a solution to some air travel issues? For instance, would the creation of large seaplanes reduce the number of flights, or simply expand our capacity and traffic? Will increasing fuel efficiency lead to higher consumption overall? Or might it open the door to hydrogen fuel at scale in the place of non-renewables? 



There is a possibility for large planes to store and run on hydrogen fuel, which offers a much more sustainable solution to jet fuel. However, to beat conventional planes on fuel efficiency, jumbo seaplanes would have to hold over 800 passengers. Dr Levis admits "[jumbo seaplanes] still couldn't quite beat what the current state-of-the-art land planes consume, especially at smaller sizes". 



There is potential for ‘jumbo seaplanes’ to counter the current issues within air travel by docking on the coast instead of within cities. Noise pollution, congestion in airports and land use for runway extension are constraints of conventional air travel. The infrastructure required by these jumbo seaplanes would include seaports, shuttle boats and increased transport networks. Might their use simply shift concerns regarding the expansion of airports and aircraft noise issues of standard aircraft towards coastal areas? 



The proposals also raise safety concerns, particularly regarding the use of hydrogen, the ability to land reliably in rough conditions, and the threat to marine wildlife at seaplane docks, where leaked fuel and underwater noise could cause an adverse impact.



Despite these forecasted issues, the sea planes represent an attempt to innovate in long-haul mass transit. As Dr Levis notes "What's really lacking at the moment is the will to try something new."

Sources

CNN (2015, June 9) Could seaplanes be the future of transatlantic flight?

Yahoo (2015, June 10) Transatlantic seaplanes: The future of travel?

What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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