Airbus completes transatlantic fuel-saving formation flight

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T1115Airbus_c_HR [Credit: S. Ramadier]
Airbus on Tuesday completed its first transatlantic formation flight in regulated air space. The goal of the project is fuel efficiency and emissions reductions. Photo Credit: S. Ramadier

Airbus has reached a milestone in its Fello'fly project, which is designed to facilitate the introduction of formation flying into commercial aviation. 

On Tuesday, the manufacturer completed its first long-haul formation demonstration in regulated airspace, with Airbus pilots flying a pair of A350s spaced just 3 kilometers apart from the company's home in Toulouse, France, to Montreal.

The goal of the project is to help airlines reduce emissions, with a trailing aircraft taking advantage of the wake updraft created by the leading plane, much as geese do when they fly in their familiar triangle formation.

Airbus said that more than six tons of carbon dioxide was saved on the trip and that the results confirmed the potential for formation flying to reduce fuel usage on long-haul flights by more than 5%. 

Currently, aircraft flying over the U.S. are required to maintain a separation of at least 3 nautical miles, while aircraft over the North Atlantic are typically spaced much farther apart.

Airbus performed Tuesday's test in cooperation with air traffic control entities from Canada and Europe. 

The manufacturer said the next step in the Fello'fly project is to obtain the support of authorities so that commercial formation flying can be certified. 

As Airbus envisions it, planes that fly as partners wouldn't have to depart from the same airport, they could also meet up en route.

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