Alcoa Develops Breakthrough Technologies That Lower Cost, Weight and Production Risk of New Airplanes

The new solutions, which combine new alloys and advanced structural technologies, use Alcoa sheet, plate, forgings and hard alloy extrusion products across aircraft structures, including airplane wings and fuselage elements.


New York, NY and Pittsburgh, PA – June 9, 2011 -- Alcoa today announced it has developed a completely new set of aluminum-based solutions for the aerospace market that will allow airframers to build dramatically lighter and lower-cost short-range airplanes at significantly lower production risk than composite-intensive planes.

The new solutions, which combine new alloys and advanced structural technologies, use Alcoa sheet, plate, forgings and hard alloy extrusion products across aircraft structures, including airplane wings and fuselage elements. The new technologies:

- lower the weight of the plane by up to 10% vs. composite-intensive planes;

- lower the cost to manufacture, operate and repair planes by up to 30% vs. composite-intensive planes, and at significantly lower production risk;

- allow for a 12% increase in fuel efficiency, on top of the 15% from new engines; and

- deliver passenger comfort features equivalent to composite-intensive planes, such as higher cabin pressure, large windows and higher humidity.

“The decisions made in the past decade to build the first composite-intensive aircraft was a huge wake-up call for us,” said Mick Wallis, President of Alcoa North American Rolled Products who is responsible for Alcoa’s aerospace sheet and plate products. “In hindsight it was the right decision for the time – when advanced aluminum solutions were not as developed -- but our technology solutions have made quantum leaps since those decisions.

“And it’s important to keep in mind that that the mission requirements of short-range airplanes are dramatically different than those of longer-range planes,” added Wallis. “With these new solutions we are confident we can add value to airframers in their short-range offerings, just as we have proven with longer-range planes…and the market research we’ve conducted says we are not alone in that belief.”

The combination of Alcoa solutions results in short range aircraft that meet or exceed airframer targets for corrosion resistance, aerodynamic drag, maintenance requirements, and fuel efficiency along with improved buy-to-fly ratios. In fact, the improvements developed by Alcoa for a new short-range aircraft can generate up to a 12% increase in fuel efficiency on top of the 15% improvement from new engines.

Included in the new solutions portfolio are advanced alloys and third-generation aluminum lithium alloys that result in up to 7% lower density in major structural applications along with critically important corrosion resistance. Alcoa’s most-recent aluminum lithium alloys were selected for large commercial aircraft plate applications and are being used on planes about to enter the marketplace. These newest aluminum lithium alloys provide additional enhanced performance.

New improvements in aerodynamics for skin sheet developed by Alcoa reduce skin friction drag by up to 6%. In addition, new advanced structural technologies using forged, extruded, and rolled products enable increased wing aspect ratio for improved fuel savings, provide up to 10 times the damage tolerance vs. conventional alloys, and allow increased cabin pressurization for enhanced passenger comfort, on par with all new aircraft structures in development today.

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