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OM in the News: Airbus Invents the “Flying Doughnut”

November 18, 2014


The Airbus design would revolutionize air travel

The Airbus design would revolutionize air travel

Airbus’s design for a future aircraft looks less like a conventional airliner and more like something from a 1950s sci-fi comic,” writes The Financial Times (Nov. 17, 2014). If a patent application filed by the European aerospace and defense group takes off, future passengers could fasten their seat belts in cabins shaped like giant doughnuts – or flying saucers.The UFO-like shape addresses a problem facing aircraft designers. Cylindrical shapes are good at containing the stresses of pressurized cabins, but huge pressures on the cylinder’s front and rear ends need to be managed with strong, heavy structures.

Other futuristic ideas that the company have patented include the idea of an economy class seat for standing passengers shaped like a bicycle saddle; immersive virtual reality helmets for delivering in-flight entertainment; and, most alarmingly of all, a windowless cockpit.

The “flying doughnut”, however, is the company’s most radical reinvention of aircraft structure. The “simple and efficient” solution would involve passengers not only receiving their in-flight meals from trolleys negotiating curved aisles, but also learning an entirely new way of boarding. Diagrams in the patent application show passengers entering the aircraft through steps leading up to doors arranged around the hole in the doughnut’s middle.

The design fits with the concepts some aerospace companies have been considering as they pursue the next step in fuel efficiency. One exec at GE Aviation said designs such as Airbus’s could be aerodynamically more efficient than traditional designs. “It is an approach that reduces the overall fuel burn for the aircraft.”

Classroom discussion questions:

1. Why is this an important OM issue?

2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the doughnut concept?

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