Aug 24, 2021

How Will Supersonic Travel Be Sustainable and Ensure a Quieter Ride? Boom and Japan Airlines Highlight 5 Initiatives.

It will take an industry-wide commitment to ensure that the future of travel is as sustainable as it is fast.

Both Boom and Japan Airlines know: it’s not enough to be fast. That’s why the partners have committed to a net-zero carbon emissions future. With air travel responsible for roughly 2 to 3% of total global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, flight is a key opportunity area for sustainable innovation.

From aircraft design to efficient propulsion and operation, here are five key initiatives empowering a greener travel future.

1. Sustainable aviation fuels

Today, most commercial airliners are powered by fossil-based aviation fuels, a blend of hydrocarbons, trace elements, and additives that benefit aircraft performance. However, significant research has developed more advanced, sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). These newer fuels, developed from sustainable resources such as waste and raw material, offer up to 80% reduction in carbon emissions during an aircraft’s full lifecycle—while still maintaining comparable or superior performance. Next generation SAF is expected to approach a 100% reduction in lifecycle carbon emissions.

For years, Japan Airlines has been both a supporter and test operator of SAF. In 2009, the airline conducted its first test flight using a blend of traditional jet kerosene and SAF made from non-edible renewable feedstock, and has continued to increase the use of SAF in commercial flights. Operating tests on domestic and international routes, including Chicago O’Hare to Narita International Airport, and San Francisco International Airport to Tokyo International Airport (Haneda), the airline sees a promising future for consistent SAF use. In fact, the airline’s goal is to help drive mass production of domestically-produced SAF by 2030 and replace 10% of the total installed capacity with SAF.

Since 2009, Japan Airlines has been participating as a test operator for the use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), including flight JL515 between Haneda and Sapporo on June 17, 2021 (pictured above).

At Boom’s hangar in Denver, the manufacturer is combining speed and sustainability to revolutionize air travel with its commercial airliner, Overture. As part of that commitment, Overture will be capable of operating on 100% SAF. And, Overture will seamlessly integrate into any airline’s current fleet.

Recognizing that it will take collaboration from the broader industry to enable 100% adoption of SAF, Boom has also partnered with key SAF suppliers and advocacy organizations, including the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) and the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI), to help facilitate increased production and improved economics.

2. Fuel efficient design

Along with innovating to reduce carbon emissions, both Boom and Japan Airlines are invested in reducing the quantity of fuel required per flight. An aircraft’s shape and components can have a direct impact on how sustainably it operates, meaning that lighter and more aerodynamically shaped aircraft tend to be more fuel-efficient. By simply replacing aluminum with carbon fiber composites, a manufacturer can cut fuel consumption by 5%.

Japan Airlines continues to use fuel-efficient design as one criteria in fleet planning. In 2012, the airline began taking delivery of the fuel-efficient Boeing 787 Dreamliner to replace older, higher-consumption aircraft. As of this year, 85% of the Japan Airlines fleet has been upgraded to fuel-efficient aircraft.

The need for high-efficiency design is also a foundational principle for Boom’s Overture. The aircraft will feature advanced, thermally-stable carbon composite airframe components for ease of assembly and maximized fuel efficiency. Through a combination of computer simulations and wind-tunnel testing, Overture will balance low-speed stability with high-speed efficiency, while also addressing the next commitment: noise reduction.

A delegation from Japan Airlines and Boom’s Chief XB-1 Engineer Greg Krauland (left) discuss supersonic aircraft design at Boom’s Denver hangar.

3. Noise-reducing technology

For those at the airport, in the sky, or residing near an airport community, Boom and Japan Airlines developed a number of initiatives to reduce the noise level of aircraft. Along with criteria of fuel efficiency, Japan Airlines has also continued to introduce new low-noise aircraft into its fleet.

Overture will only be flown at supersonic speeds over the ocean, eliminating community exposure to sonic booms. For landing and takeoff noise, Overture is targeting existing subsonic certification noise levels. To enable this, it is designed with the latest noise-reducing technologies, including nozzles optimized to minimize jet noise and maximize thrust, and advanced acoustic liners to attenuate fan noise. (Learn more about the science of designing quieter aircraft.)

4. Green operations

The process of reducing, reusing, and recycling as much material and waste as possible is a foundational practice at both Boom and Japan Airlines. Onboard waste material, such as cans, bottles, newspapers, and magazines are recycled from all Japan Airlines flights, just as the polyethylene sheets the Boom crew uses for water and dust proofing are recycled and repurposed into items like garden supplies.

Boom’s manufacturing process is designed for resource efficiency, and put into practice through the development of the company’s supersonic demonstrator aircraft, XB-1. During the XB-1 build, Boom repurposed tooling and used 3D-printing to save material, a practice that is intended to transfer to Overture’s production. (Learn more about how Boom is using 3D printing.)

5. Carbon offsets

From the production of sustainable fuel to the efficiency of design and operation, Boom and Japan Airlines are taking active measures to improve every stage of an aircraft’s lifecycle. The partners have also committed to voluntary carbon offsetting, ensuring that any remaining carbon emissions are offset through high quality offsetting practices such as reforestation, community projects, and use of renewable energy. Passengers are invited to do the same through Japan Airlines’ offsetting tool.

In the near future, the partners also anticipate industry advancements through the maturation of advanced carbon sequestration technologies, including direct air CO2 capture, bio-char, and other emerging technologies.

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