BA To Trial 3D-Printed Parts

Credit: British Airways

British Airways (BA) is exploring the idea of using 3D printed parts, printed locally at outstations, to improve schedule reliability and cut logistics-related emissions.

Releasing details of the initiative on Dec. 9, BA said it plans to trial 3D-printing technologies as a follow on from its 100-year anniversary "BA2119: Flight of the Future" program.

British Airways is exploring the possibility of using 3D printers to create aircraft parts in the future. These printers would be located at airports around the world to reduce delays for customers and emissions caused by transporting items, BA said, Dec. 9.

The first use case is likely to be non-essential cabin parts, such as pieces of tray tables, entertainment systems and toilets.

While these components do not impact the safe operation of the flight, they can reduce the number of seats or toilets available for customers and cause delays as engineers wait for the parts to be flown to wherever the aircraft is, BA said.

BA went on to suggest 10 potential applications for 3D printing, including cutlery, products for amenity kits (such as toothbrushes or combs), tray tables, aircraft windows, inflight entertainment screens, seats, baggage containers, circuit boards for electrical components, flight deck switches and aircraft shells.

3D printing is yet another advancement that will keep us at the forefront of airline innovation, BA head of innovation Ricardo Vidal said.

BA is also eyeing the sustainability credentials of 3D printing. Producing parts locally would cut shipping emissions. Also, 3D-printed parts can be as strong and durable as traditional components, while weighing up to 55% less. This fits with BA's objective to become carbon-neutral by 2050.

Every kilogram removed saves up to 25 tons of CO2 emissions during the lifespan of an aircraft,BA said.

Victoria Moores

Victoria Moores joined Air Transport World as our London-based European Editor/Bureau Chief on 18 June 2012. Victoria has nearly 20 years’ aviation industry experience, spanning airline ground operations, analytical, journalism and communications roles.