Alexandre Ricardo Aerospace Canada

How the aerospace industry is working towards a sustainable, zero-emissions future

10 May 2023


Alexandre Marceau-Gozsy is a program manager at Ricardo, he heads up the business’ recently opened aerospace centre of excellence in Montreal, Canada. He provides his views on the future of the aerospace industry and the work that Ricardo is doing to help shape sustainable mobility on the road to mobility in 2035.

Q: Please provide a bit of background about you, your career and experience?

“I am an engineer with a bachelor’s in aerospace engineering. I spent 7 years working on the development of the Global 7500, Bombardier latest business jet. I started as a system engineer in Montreal then move to Toronto to test and assembled the aircraft and finally moved to Wichita to support the flight test program. I was extraordinarily lucky to be allowed to follow a complete aircraft development program from clean sheet to entry into service. A jet aircraft is a formidable machine and seeing ideas go from a concept to a flight worthy system was an incredible experience.

“After the aircraft certification, I moved back to Montreal and decided to switch to a management position. I joined a landing gear manufacturing company as a program manager and started a part-time master’s in business administration. I was again extremely lucky to be assigned to challenging programs such as the CH-47 (Chinook) helicopter and the F-18 main landing gears projects. In parallel,

“I was completing my master with a thesis on the application of hydrogen for heavy duty transportation. After my master completion, I was looking for an opportunity to have a tangible impact on the environment and the fight against climate change. This is when I was approached by Ricardo to see if I would be interested in joining the team. I joined nine months ago and have been enjoying every minute since then.”

Q: What is your role at Ricardo and what is your main focus?

“I’m a program manager at Ricardo and mainly look after Ricardo’s growing aerospace client base in Canada, including Pratt & Whitney. We’re strategically located in Montreal, as it’s the third largest centre of aerospace manufacturing in the world and the only place where an entire aircraft can be assembled from locally manufactured components. Our long-term vision is to support customers around the globe by building and maintaining Ricardo’s aerospace expertise in Canada supported by our worldwide engineering community.”

Q: What are the main themes that are driving future solution in the aerospace industry?

“The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is the primary focus of new aircraft development. Aircraft manufacturers and operators have seen growing public pressure to reduce emissions and certification authorities are actively working to regulate air transportation greenhouse gas emissions

“The aerospace industry currently represents about 3.5 % of the worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. Given the projected growth of passenger air travel and freight, this % could triple by 2050 if no action is taken. This would make air transportation one of the main sources of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, a major concern for aircraft operators, OEMs, and authorities.

“Another trend that is building momentum is the development of air taxis, often in the form of EVTOL (electrical vertical take-off and landing aircraft) and electric aircraft for short distance. There is still significant development work needed to make these commercially viable, but we are seeing a strong interest from the market for these applications.”

Q: What are the biggest challenges for OEMs and suppliers working in the aerospace sector?

“For development projects, the risk associated with implementing new technologies is probably the biggest challenge. Safety is the aerospace industry’s number one priority, so this makes aerospace OEMs extremely risk adverse. Any new technology needs to be proven through years of testing on the ground followed by thousands of flight-testing hours before it can start the certification process.

“With the push towards zero emission transportation, several technologies are being studied and tested for aerospace applications. There is, however, no clear unique technology or solution that can be applied to all aerospace applications. Personal and regional (short haul) aircraft can be electrified but the weight of the batteries is currently limiting aircraft range to roughly 250 nautical miles, a distance where the benefit of flying compared to ground transportation is questionable for commercial flight. For medium to long haul flight (such as transatlantic flights), OEMs and engine manufacturing are testing various technologies such as hybrid engines, fuel cell powered aircraft or SAF (sustainable aviation fuel). For all these new technologies, the supply of energy is a challenge, the reliability of components is a concerned and the commercial viability of the technology is a risk.

“On legacy programs, demand forecasting is one of the main challenges. The pandemic forced all air transportation to a sudden halt in a matter of days, resulting in havoc in production lines and supply chains. Today, we are seeing a strong market recovery but the supply chain, especially raw material sourcing, is struggling to catch up, resulting in a shortage of critical components. The war in Ukraine has added to this challenge by significantly reducing availability of titanium, a critical material for the manufacturing of latest generation commercial aircraft such as the Boeing B787 and the Airbus A350.”

Q: How can Ricardo support its clients to find solutions that meet the needs of decarbonisation in the aerospace industry?

“Ricardo has embarked on a journey towards a zero-emissions future, including the transition from fossil fuels to zero emission vehicles for a ground application. In this process, we have acquired knowledge and expertise that, today, uniquely position us to support the same transition in the aerospace industry, as well as other industries, such as marine. Developing clean combustion technologies, testing existing zero-emission ground technologies to validate their viability in aerospace applications, integrating e-machines and batteries to new or existing aircrafts are a few examples of how and where Ricardo can make a tangible difference in the decarbonisation of the aerospace industry.”

Q: What are some of the technologies that Ricardo is working on presently?

“Hybrid engines and fuel cells for aerospace application are probably the most promising opportunities currently. The hybrid engine is being developed in partnership with Pratt & Whitney Canada. It combines an e-motor to an internal combustion engine to reach about a 1000 HPs, enough to support regional aircrafts such as the Bombardier Dash-8 and Q-400 or the ATR 42 and 72. This is an exciting opportunity for Ricardo as we are working hand in hand with the customer’s advanced design team, leveraging both teams’ expertise to develop the next generation of fuel efficient, light, and affordable aerospace engines.

“In parallel, we are working on Project Fresson, which aims to reduce the fuel consumption and maintenance cost of a BN-2 Islander, an aircraft mostly used for short flights. Ricardo is responsible for the integration of the fuel cells. It’s a unique opportunity to leverage the expertise we build on similar integration project for ground transportation application. We are, also, in active discussion with multiple customers to support EVTOL (electrical vertical take-off and landing) and aircraft electrification projects.”

Q: What do you think the industry will look like in 3-5 years’ time. Will significant progress have been made, or are we still quite some time away from real change?

“Safety is the top priority in aerospace and, unfortunately, this is slowing down the rate and scale of the changes the industry is ready to accept. The likelihood of a disruptive technology being certified within the next 3 to 5 years is, from my perspective, low. However, we will likely see multiple concepts and demonstrators go through flight test, incrementally changing how an aircraft operates until we reach a commercially viable zero or low emission solution.”

Q: How important is buy-in from major OEMs to develop greener, more sustainable propulsion solutions?

“Extremely important. These OEMs have decades of experience in aircraft development and certification, which gives them credibility in front of certification authorities and significantly increases the likelihood of a new technology acceptance. It also improves the commercial viability of new technology and its implementation in the aerospace sector as aerospace manufacturing processes are expensive and take years to implement. These OEMs already have processes in place, to speed up the integration of a new technology to their existing manufacturing processes.”

Q: Any other thoughts?

“We are joining the aerospace industry at an interesting time, the push towards decarbonisation is forcing OEMs to reconsider their development processes something not seen in decades. Our expertise in sustainable transportation ideally positions Ricardo to support these customers in their search for sustainable air transportation solutions. We are witnessing the beginning of a journey towards zero-emissions solutions in aerospace, a journey that will give Ricardo the opportunity to be involve in a lot of challenging projects!”

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