European aircraft manufacturer, Airbus, is sponsoring a design contest aimed at reducing the aviation industry's impact on the environment without reducing the bottom line. It's called Fly Your Ideas...and teams from universities all over the world have signed on. The World's Alex Gallafent reports.
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MARCO WERMAN: Our next story is about another call for innovative thinking. This one focuses on airplanes. The World's Alex Gallafent reports, introduced first by R. Kelly.
R. KELLY: I believe I can fly.
ALEX GALLAFENT: That may well be, but sometimes you have to put your money where your mouth is and prove it. Fly Your Ideas is a design contest run by Airbus, the European aircraft manufacturer. It's also a really smooth public relations exercise.
MALE: Airbus is inviting teams of students from all over the world to compete for the chance to change our industry, and our world.
GALLAFENT: The main idea is to generate innovative ways to reduce the aviation industry's impact on the environment, while protecting the industry's bottom line. Teams from universities from all over the world have taken part, not too surprising since there's a top prize of about $40,000 dollars on offer. Sandrine Roques is one of the Airbus team assessing submissions.
SANDRINE ROQUES: Some proposals were very innovative and stand out. We have seen some really incredible ideas.
GALLAFENT: The team names alone are intriguing. Early entries included â€œHarmonic Flyingâ€ from China. A team from the Vienna University of Technology in Austria had no shame in calling itself â€œThe Betterfly Effectâ€. And who knows what one Egyptian team had in mind for airplane technology when it went with the name â€œSkydiversâ€. The top five teams were announced yesterday. One from Spain has designed an eco-efficient cabin without windows. Presumably, they've designed an indestructible entertainment system to go with it. Teams from Australia, the Czech Republic, and Singapore came up with sensible ideas, like natural plant fibers in airplane cabins, using electric motors for aircraft taxiing, and generating electricity with on-board solar cells. But maybe the weirdest idea comes from here in the United States. Students from Stanford think energy could be saved by having planes fly in formation, specifically the inverted â€œVâ€ formation used by migrating birds, such as geese. Here's one of the team, third year PhD student Tristan Flanza.
TRISTAN FLANZA: One of the benefits is that the formation is inherently more stable. The aerodynamic lows on the trailing airplane of the formation make it more statically stable while in formation.
GALLAFENT: But that doesn't mean a bunch of planes flying really close together â€“ that wouldn't be safe. Instead, Flanza says, aircraft could fly in extended formations several miles apart. The planes would save energy by piggy-backing on powerful wakes left in the air by aircraft flying far ahead.
FLANZA: One of the analyses we did do was for a Virgin Atlantic flight from the United States to the UK. And if you have a flight taking off from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, then they could certainly meet up somewhere over the western United States, fly to London or to wherever in the UK, and sort of break up at the end.
GALLAFENT: Pretty cool, if it works. The winner will be announced in mid-June. For The World, I'm Alex Gallafent.
WERMAN: Now, a quick note about Ryan Air, the Irish no-frills airline. You may have heard about its latest idea for reducing cost: charging obese passengers extra. It didn't go down well â€“ the idea was quickly dubbed a â€œfat taxâ€ and today the airline dropped it, saying that collecting such a charge would slow down check-in procedures. That wasn't the only good news today for people on the larger side. Consumers in Britain won the so-called â€œBattle of the Bustâ€. Retailer Marks & Spencer had imposed a $3-dollar surcharge on bras larger than size double D. Shoppers revolted, and an online campaign was launched called Busts For Justice. It worked. Equal bra pricing returns tomorrow â€“ Marks & Spencer, your cup runneth over. The day's top news stories from the BBC are coming right up on PRI. That's one minute away. This is Public Radio International.