Boeing, Alaska team for next round of ecoDemonstrator research

By Scott Hamilton

June 3, 2021, © Leeham News: Boeing and Alaska Airlines today outlined a five month ecoDemonstrator program in a series of tests designed to “green up” commercial aviation.

Boeing partnered with airlines and suppliers beginning in 2012. Alaska is the eighth airline to participate. A Boeing 737-9 will be the current platform.

Boeing will flight test 20 technologies and ideas with Alaska beginning June 29 and ending Dec. 2.

Not all ideas fall strictly within “new technologies.” Some are weight-reduction initiatives that aggregate to lower airplane weight, which in turn reduces fuel burn. This in turn reduces carbon emissions.

But other ideas directly go to environmental efforts addressing noise, emissions and now COVID infectious worries.

Current testing initiatives

Among the initiatives on the Boeing-Alaska testing are a:

  • Halon-free fire extinguishing agent aimed at “significantly reducing effects on the ozone layer.” Studies will be in ground testing.
  • New acoustical material for the engine nacelle, with a goal of reducing noise by 2-3 dB.
  • Recycled carbon composite waste is used to create passenger cabin sidewalls. Carbon composite waste is especially toxic to the environment.
  • New “air curtain” is positioned in the overhead service panel. Intended to direct air downward, the goal is to prevent germs from coughing or sneezing to migrate from one passenger seating row to the next.

    Boeing’s “air curtain” is intended to minimize the sneeze or cough spread of germs from one seat row to another. Boeing photo.

More efficient flying procedures are intended to reduce flying time, reducing fuel usage and with it emissions. Research continues with the long-running Sustainable Air Fuel program. Today, regulations cap the use of SAF at a 50% blend with jet fuel. Boeing wants to have its entire product line of airliners 100% SAF-capable by 2030.

Since Boeing began its ecoDemonstrator effort nearly 10 years ago, the company tested 175 technologies. About half have been adopted or continue in research. The other half are no longer under study.

24 Comments on “Boeing, Alaska team for next round of ecoDemonstrator research

  1. “Recycled carbon composite waste is used to create passenger cabin sidewalls. Carbon composite waste is especially toxic to the environment.”

    Two questions on this:

    — If Boeing is working on a new version of the 767 as a mid-market competitor to future improved long range A321/322 versions, could it be possible to use thinner cabin sidewalls to make 8-abreast seating in the 767 tolerable?

    — What type of encasement would be required to make sure that microscopic carbon particles are not released into cabin air?

    • Answer to first is No.

      Answer to second is I don’t know.

    • Hello BernardP,

      Re: “could it be possible to use thinner cabin sidewalls to make 8-abreast seating in the 767 tolerable?”

      Which airlines use 8 abreast seating in 767’s? I have never seen an 8 abreast seat map for a 767, perhaps they do exist but I haven’t seen one because I don’t fly low cost crappy service airlines. The US big 3 all have (in the case of Delta and United) or had (in the case of American) 2-3-2 abreast (i.e. 7 abreast) in economy on 767’s with seat widths of about 18 inches.

      From the Delta website: 767-300ER subfleets K and Z have 2-3-2 across in “Main Cabin” (regular economy) with 18.1 inch seat width and 31 to 32 inch seat pitch.

      From the United website : 767-300 versions 1, 2, and 3 have 2-3-2 across in “United Economy” with 18.5 inch seat width and 31 inch seat pitch.

      Back when my finances didn’t allow me to travel First Class most of the time, 767’s were one of my favorites due to the low probability of getting stuck in a middle seat in economy. In the 2-3-2 across configuration used in economy on any 767 I ever flew one, only 1 out 7 economy seats (14%) were middle seats, vs. 4 out of 10 (40%) with 3-4-3 across (common on 777’s), 3 out of 9 (33%) with 3-3-3 across (common on 787’s), 2 out of 6 (33%) with 3-3 across, 2 out of 8 (25%) with 2-4-2 across (common on A-330’s), and 1 out of 5 (20%) with 3-2 across.

      • Robert, there is at least one airline using 8-abreast on the 767 : Ukraine International. They give seat width at 17 inches, so the aisles must be very narrow:

        Looking on, I also found out that Skymark from Japan and Britannia had 767s with 8-abreast in the past.

        That’s why I asked the question. If Boeing could squeeze a few inches out of the sidewalls (like they did with the 777X), they could make a case for a 2-4-2 version of an eventual “new” 767. This could make the economics of this new version more competitive.

        I would not bet against this carbon composite sidewall test being done for precisely that. But I would not bet on it either.

        • Other 767s with 8 abreast 2,4,2 were Thompson, Tui, Corsair. Maybe same planes under later owners.
          Plenty of cabin pics showing this

        • Given the COVID situation I suspect these high density layouts should be regulated away as they likely impose close contact and disease spreading.

      • Reminds me of my youth working with Hawaiian Air’s ex-ANA Tristars. 11 abreast seating – 366 pax – 1 class. Always counted kids to get MTOW under 450k. Those were the days…

    • Phenolic resin, I think.Airbus did a demo 5 years ago. Seems a bit underwhelming unless it’s something different.

  2. The Halon part caught my eye. All too many hours dealing with it though I only had one release.

    I had assumed Aircraft wold have shifted over like Av Gas, looks like once its there getting rid of it verges on impossible.

    The last Computer room protection system I worked on used a water mist system, glad we never got to see it used.

  3. Scott, No LNA comment on Boom and Aerion supersonic transport developments? Would love to know what you and Bjorn think about the demise of the latter and boost to the former by United Airlines.

    • In the meantime, and out of general interest, here’s an article on this subject — which LNA has also (partially) referenced in its Twitter feed.

      There’s a map in the article which shows the outrageous extra fuel consumption of supersonic versus subsonic transport. Even if it is SAF that’s being used, it will be difficult to justify the extra consumption at a time when there isn’t enough SAF to cover all needs. Of course, very premium-heavy flights like SIA’s ULRs, some BA translatlantic flights and LaCompagnie’s flights are also excessive in their fuel usage per seat.

  4. I was involved in a test of high pressure water mist fire suppression system. We were watching through a window. It was weird, the room got hazy, the fire went out, and afterward there was no water anywhere.
    I did talk to a guy that had been in room when it went off once. He said you just hold your breath because if you try to breath it feels like you are drowning.

    • Interesting. I had one Kitchen range with a misting system. I thought it was a lot better than Halon but any condensation would drip into the Fry Pot and not good.

      Not long before the Internet and I never bothered to call them and ask.

      We never go to try it.

      The boys in the Simulator wanted us to maintain their Halon system but it was, nope, that is your side of the ops and we ain’t touching it. You just want someone else to blame if it all goes wrong.

      Same story with their Sim Smoke detector went into trouble (probably cross zoned).

      Nope, we ain’t touching it. Something goes wrong and its on us and that is way over your side of the equipment line.

    • “hold your breath because if you try to breath it feels like you are drowning.”
      Yes, that apparently one of the reasons it works as it displaces ( some) oxygen. That can be another issue but a fire can deplete oxygen too.

  5. Some news regarding Ryanair’s MAX-8200s: it appears that there’s a (new) certification hold-up at the FAA:

    Reuters: “Ryanair says first 737 MAX delivery delayed by FAA certification”

    “Ryanair may decline to accept delivery of its first Boeing (BA.N) 737 MAX jet until after the summer following a delay in the certification of a version of the jet designed for the airline, a senior executive said on Thursday.”

    “The release of that aircraft … has to do with a fairly straightforward issue. And it’s how the interface between Boeing and the FAA is going to work in matters like that and they have to iron that out once and for all,” Wilson said.
    “It’s really up to Boeing at Seattle to bed in that relationship with the FAA in dealing with issues of certification and how they have to do things differently. That’s what it looks like,” he said.

    Any theories? Could the FAA be mandating a new emergency evacuation test, in view of the extra seats and different door configuration?

    • They should have made the first and last doors wider and give up smaller right side doors instead of a new door pair.
      The distance between both overwing exits is bigger on the MAX than on the A320family, which result in a bigger exit seat pitch.
      But Ryan might have asked for the cheapest solution anyway.
      Now the FAA might have measured everything and didn’t accept the shenanigans of the past.
      Will EASA check it too?

  6. 1. Wasn’t the MAX 8-200 FAA “certified” a few months ago?? 2. How about the spreadsheet showing ‘737-8200 “Ready for Delivery”’? 3. The “meteor” strikes twice??

    • It was indeed “certified” a few months ago.
      Strange that that “certification” now appears to be void.
      There’s a rat somewhere under the rug…

  7. The development of “Air Curtains” to minimise the distribution air born disease strikes me as the only significant technology. The spreading of disease in public transport is the defining characteristic of this decade. While the outstanding ventilation and filtration systems on modern commercial aircraft seem to have been fairly effective (far more so than buses and non VFT trains) aviation needs to focus on this or it will die out. There will probably need to be FAA / EASA regulations on cabin air quality. A passenger is probably more likely to die of disease caught on an aircraft than from that aircraft crashing.

    • It’s probably idle fantasy to think that any technology can prevent the spread of contagions in an aircraft cabin. The new variants of CoViD are so contagious that even the tiniest quantity of aerosol-carried virus is enough to cause infection: Melbourne in Australia is currently in lockdown because a tiny quantity of aerosol remained airborne in a quarantine hotel corridor for 12 minutes, before migrating through a room door that was briefly opened to collect a food delivery. Moreover, it can also be transmitted by touching contaminated surfaces, and there are a lot of common-touch surfaces in an aircraft (toilets, overhead bins, arm rests, IFE screens, catering items).

      Most importantly, however: in order to get on an aircraft one must first traverse an airport — where there are no sophisticated ventilation systems.

      We’re just going to have to accept the risks. After all, people accept the risk of a norovirus outbreak on cruise ships, and norovirus kills 200,000 people every year.

      • Hardly a good comparison with norovirus , which kills 800-900 per year in US, again mostly elderly. I don’t see it as a respiratory disease spread person to person mostly by airborne transmission either

        • Nobody said it was airborne.
          But it’s associated with mass transit, it can absolutely ruin a holiday or business trip, it often requires hospitalization…and yet passengers just accept that risk and go on cruises.
          Incidentally, norovirus kills 50,000 children per year worldwide; so it’s not just the elderly who are at risk.

      • Ducted air conditioning is the absolute pits for spreading disease, the ducts themselves are reservoirs of disease. (I used to work in HVAC and my sister, a biologist had a job testing the ducts whose cleanliness unlike the cooling towers (due to legionella, is unregulated). The world has become sloppy with hygiene since the days when fear of polio and tuberculosis drove hygiene rules. The circulation rate of air in an aircraft is about one exchange every 3 minutes which by my calculation is equal to a down flow of about 3cm/second. That has got to reduce exposure. Then we can add bacteriostatic and antimicrobial coatings to surfaces, filters in air-conditioning and UV-C lamps that turn on at critical times, air curtains etc. It all adds up. We all need to start wearing washed white gloves like JAL pilots did (as part of landing procedures) and Shinkansen conductors.

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