WATCH: How 3-D printing aircraft parts could reduce flight delays in future

What will the passenger journey look like from drop-off to boarding gate in a few years to come? Better yet, what will the gate to gate experience be like in the future?

Airlines are doing more and more to enhance the sustainability of its operations by means of finding new and creative ways to lower overall carbon emissions. And everyone is pitching in with ideas.

Recently, a new exhibition at London's Design Museum envisioning a future of waste-free, in-flight meal trays. Imagine a tray made out of coffee grains, the dessert dish is a waffle cone (so an edible bowl essentially), algae skins to contain milk or salad dressing and the salad bowl is made entirely from a pressed banana leaf - all cheap and easily-available material.

READ: The future of SA airports? Putting the passenger in charge of (almost) everything except piloting the plane 

You can have your meal and finish off by eating the tray! 

Now, British Airways is exploring the possibility of using 3D printers to create aircraft parts in the future. And not just parts, but also things like cutlery, products for amenity kits, such as toothbrushes or combs, tray tables, aircraft windows, in-flight entertainment screens, seats, baggage containers, circuit boards for electrical components, flight deck switches and even aircraft shells. 

These printers would be located at airports around the world to reduce delays for customers and emissions caused by transporting items. The airline’s innovators predict that non-essential cabin parts will be first on the list to be generated, including pieces of tray tables, entertainment systems and toilets.

PICS: What your in-flight meal tray could look like in the future 

plane, 3-D

(PHOTO: British Airways)

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.  

Ricardo Vidal, Head of Innovation at British Airways, says this area of technology has never been more important to ensure sustainability and a seamless travel experience:  “We work with start-ups and innovation partners from around the world to explore and implement the very latest technologies, from artificial intelligence to speed up turnaround times to biometrics, helping us to deliver a seamless airport experience for customers. 3D printing is yet another advancement that will keep us at the forefront of airline innovation.” 

plane, 3-D

(PHOTO: British Airways) 

plane, 3-D

(PHOTO: British Airways) 

READ: How SA airports (and some spekboom) are fighting long-haul 'flight shame' 

3D printing is an essential step towards the sustainable future of aviation, as the printers can produce parts that, while as strong and durable as traditional components, weigh up to 55 per cent less. Every kilogram removed saves up to 25 tons of CO2 emissions during the lifespan of an aircraft.

British Airways’ exploration of 3D printing follows the airline’s BA2119: Flight of the Future programme in celebration of it’s centenary.

It’s research into the future of the customer experience suggested that within the next decade, biological scanners gathering travellers’ physiological and nutritional needs could suggest food and drink to meet individual requirements and print these on board the aircraft. In addition, the research predicts that jet lag could become be a thing of the past, with 3D printers producing personalised health supplements. 

Now they just have to fix the not sleeping issue and I'm on board all the way!

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