Revolution in the Sky?

Commercial Airliner Technology and the Greening of Air Travel

Principal Investigator:

Graham Spinardi

Research Team:

Dr Graham Spinardi and Prof Donald MacKenzie


This research addresses the need for major environmental improvements in passenger aircraft technology. More fuel-efficient technologies include turboprop engines, flying wing airframes, and the use of lighter structural materials such as carbon fibre. However, these have either been introduced very slowly (carbon fibre), only used for certain short-haul routes (turboprop engines), or have not been used at all (flying wings).

It appears that these technologies have not been widely adopted because they do not fit easily within an approach based on incremental improvement of the classic airliner design. Typified by the Boeing 7x7 series of aircraft, this dominant design comprises a tube-shaped fuselage with swept wings, made of aluminium and powered by turbofan engines under the wings.

This project will use interviews and archival research, along with other sources, to understand the development of the dominant design and the neglect of more environmentally-friendly alternatives. It will address the issue of why certain technologies get 'locked-in' to incremental improvement whilst alternative approaches are neglected. This analysis will investigate the processes that favour incremental technological change over radical innovation, and provide insight into what policy options might overcome this resistance and thus speed up the transition to less polluting airliner technologies.