NACO and Schiphol Take Off with Innovation

NACO and Schiphol Take Off with Innovation

Senior Specialist Fer Mooren explains how NACO is ahead of the field in aviation innovation

If you think airport pavement engineering sounds predictable and straightforward, think again. Deep in the heart of The Hague sit some of the most interesting and forward-thinking projects in the aviation industry.
Our sister company, NACO, is one of the world’s leading airport consultancies and recently, thanks to the commitment of Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, it’s been climbing skyward with industry-changing ideas and projects.

Recycled Runways for Large Savings
When you think of reducing aircraft emissions and environmental impact for instance, you’d be forgiven for ignoring the role of the runway in helping secure these reductions. But now, as Senior Specialist Fer Mooren points out, runway and taxiway pavements are set to make big contributions to airport sustainability: “Raw materials for pavement construction are scarce in the Netherlands. Historically, this means we’ve had to rely on imported aggregates and precious natural resources to help secure supply.

“This process is costly and unsustainable, and so in association with Delft University, we’ve pioneered a 100% recycled pavement product. This recycled system means we’ve reduced demand for resources, reduced transport for raw materials and because of its combination of premium quality asphalt layers; we’ve also reduced the need for maintenance. At Schiphol for example, we’ve extended the life of the surface layer from 6-8 years to 10-15 years.”

Vertically Curved Runways
As well as improving the quality and longevity of airport runways, we are looking into changing their angle. If that sounds a little alarming, consider the basic design of an aircraft as a machine that’s created to fly rather than drive. If we accept this premise, then it seems natural to reduce the amount of time an aircraft spends on the runway.

Aeroplanes produce about 25% of their total CO2 emissions (and noise) during take-off. A vertically curved runway would speed ascent and make significant reductions in emissions and noise pollution. Mooren again: “This is an idea developed by Dr Ali Elham from Delft University’s Faculty of Aerospace Engineering. Although we’re still very much in concept stage, their idea of a vertically curved runway is a distinct possibility. If you allow gravity to assist in aircraft acceleration, you can make large impacts in reducing aircraft emissions in the crucial first three minutes of flight. We’re now looking at the potential impact on airport infrastructure together with Delft University and assessing how this idea could be integrated into existing airports.”

The concept provides clear wins for both airports and airlines. A relatively small incline of 5-10 metres would still make a marked impact in terms of fuel use, noise and emissions reductions and according to Mooren, would not compromise safety or require any adjustment to existing design standards.

Electronic Taxiing
A project closer to implementation is the eTaxi. The eTaxi is a system of ‘green’ taxiing - moving aircraft using electrically powered engines mounted onto the aircraft wheels. Currently aircraft ‘drive’ using their own engines which adds to fuel use, noise and emissions. In association with the National Aerospace Laboratory, NACO is studying the potential impact of eTaxi systems for airports and airport infrastructure, but expects to see green taxiing increase in use over the coming years.

The Elephant on the Runway
For Mooren’s particular specialism however, one of the most pressing challenges is ever-increasing aircraft loads. He says: “There’s no doubt that aircraft loads are increasing and although manufacturers are optimising their designs and reducing the number of wheels, this can mean more load per wheel. A great analogy would be to think of an aircraft as an elephant; as aircrafts increase in size, so does that elephant, but as it grows, it puts on a pair of high-heeled shoes – now imagine the damage it can do to a runway.”

With that vision in mind, it’s not surprising to hear Mooren talk about new developments in the pavement sector that support these enormously increased loads. His team are now working on new materials and combinations of materials to modify surfaces and provide a more sustainable future for airports – something that only specialist consultancies like NACO are able to offer.

Mooren is keen to stress that many of these developments and projects could not take place without the support of Amsterdam Airport Schiphol: “We’ve been lucky to have such an open minded partner at Schiphol. Together we’ve been able to make significant improvements in airport design that benefit not only Amsterdam’s hub, but further afield in other airports around the globe.”

And indeed, as NACO celebrates its 65th birthday this year, it continues to achieve success around the world with a recent competition win to design Mexico’s new Greenfield Airport - proving the reach and value of their expertise.

For more information on NACO and their project work, please contact [email protected]