Before we go much further, we have to clarify a few things. First, the illustration doesn’t show a plane as we know it, nor does it actually exist. Nor, perhaps, does the model that Airbus plans to build. There will be some absolutely fantastic aircraft available in the future, because we’ve all dreamed of them. Airbus have produced some half-assed prototypes before, but this new model is actually going to be used and a real plane is unlikely to come into the picture for a very long time yet.
What do we know about the plane? A lot. Let’s break it down.
1. A lot of the R&D work has already taken place, and progress is being made
Even if this model is just a mock-up for now, Airbus has made a lot of progress already. This isn’t just the central parts of the plane on the back of a single truck, but actual prototypes being built at the Cologne factory. See the pic below showing the design, ie: a real version of the plane.
Airbus Photograph: Airbus/PA
2. They think it will be used on passenger airlines by 2023
3. They plan to build two series
One will be a long-range version of the A321 jet they are currently developing, and will use new “virtual avionics” to give pilots a back-up in the event of a mechanical failure. This larger plane, and the smaller plane that will act as a basic model, will launch two years apart. It will have no tanks to store gas, so it is meant to be used for short-haul flights, basically economy class.
4. They claim it will be comfortable
Whereas traditional planes are made to be flown in straight lines with big windows, the A2E3 model Airbus plans to build is a “harmonised space” of curves and bumps to help make flying a bit more pleasant.
5. They can fly 45,000 feet – more than 3,000 feet above the average altitude of a plane
6. They know it will cost £500m to develop
7. There will be many passengers in the cabin
8. It will be made entirely of carbon fibre
9. It will seat 18 passengers
10. The aeroplane seats can be turned into a “retractable lounge chair”
11. It will create 75,000 jobs
12. It could help to save energy
They expect to see the overall impact of the plane cuts down on energy consumption by about 70% compared to what it would be if it was a conventional airliner. According to the CEO of the French branch of the company, they’ve already saved some 10% on energy use by fitting a solar panel on the roof of the warehouse, where the prototype for the plane will be built.