• These projects are making it possible to develop designs for lighter aeroplanes and streamlined validation processes.
  • The centre collaborates with key stakeholders and companies throughout the domestic and international aeronautical industry. 

The future of the aeronautical sector rests upon the manufacture of a greater number of lighter and more efficient aircraft. The aeronautical industry has dealt with major challenges over recent years; among these is the greater access to air travel, the rising cost of energy and the need to reduce pollution.

Air traffic is forecast to increase over the medium and long term. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), it is estimated that by 2035 the number of airports operating beyond 80 % of their capacity could increase from 6 to 30. The large multinationals in the sector, such as Airbus and Boeing, placed 1481 aircraft on the market in 2017 and have definitive orders for the manufacture of another 35 000 aircraft.

The demand for lighter weight aircraft, which in turn allow for reduced fuel consumption, requires the incorporation of new technologies for an industry that is always forced to be at the forefront.

In this sense, IK4-IKERLAN has devoted itself to aeronautics as an avenue for growth and diversification, using the application of technologies and the know-how it has developed for other sectors, such as railways, electric mobility and capital goods. “The weight of this industry on our activity mix is progressively increasing, and it’s a sector where more and more projects are emerging. We want to be at the forefront because we manage technology that could be applied directly,” explained Irma Villar, head of one of the main aeronautical projects at the technology centre.

IK4-IKERLAN, along with other Basque companies, participated in Clean Sky2, a community initiative for Europe to lead the next generation aircraft; a European Union programme financed by Horizon 2020 contributing to reduced of fuel consumption and the CO2 emissions of between 20 % and 30 % and a reduction in noise levels to an amount experienced in 2014, when there was less air traffic than now.

As for the centre, in order to address the technological needs of the aeronautical sector, we are working with various technologies like electromagnetic induction and novel tracking techniques.

Induction against ice build up on wings

The aeronautical sector has been focusing its efforts on anti-icing systems, as they are one of the factors behind higher fuel consumption. There is an attempt to devise more efficient solutions to avoid transporting extra fuel for the sole purpose of ice removal.

Through the InductICE project, IK4-IKERLAN works within the European framework in the application of electromagnetic induction as an innovative and efficient system to protect the build up of ice on aircraft wings.

“It is a state-of-the-art system, which has not emerged until now. Commercially, other types of techniques are used to melt the ice, but they do not use induction. For the most part, our application ensures the efficient use of energy”, explained Irma Villar.

Nowadays the ice protection systems are divided in two main groups: on the one hand, there are mechanical systems that remove the ice by warping of the surface upon which it forms and, on the other hand, thermal systems that heat the surface using electrical resistance or that redirect some of the hot air coming from the engine compressor.

For aircraft wings, the system patented by Airbus DS and the Basque technology centre allows an outside surface of the wing to be heated from the inside without the use of any electrical contact. The fully modular system can operate as an antifreeze system (heating in a continuous mode) or thawing (heating in a cyclical mode), which provides the benefit of greater flexibility. Additionally, the modular system allows for the specific points where ice is forming to be directly heated, thereby avoiding excessive energy consumption.

Ice tunnel tests

To confirm that the induction system works, IK4-IKERLAN has immersed itself in a new project that will end in March 2020, which allows for the testing of the electromagnetic application inside an ice tunnel. For this purpose, a consortium has been formed consisting of the Belgian company Sonaca Group specialising in the manufacture of wings and heading the design of the model to be used during trials, the Cranfield University providing the technological know-how as they have a smaller version of an ice tunnel and, finally, the Austrian company Rail Tec Arsenal (RTA) which has its own ice tunnel used for aerodynamic and climatic tests.

This consortium will allow the Basque technological centre to expand its knowledge base on electromagnetic induction systems in order to validate this solution and to move towards the final design of the product.

Tracking to improve efficiency

IK4-IKERLAN is also researching, in collaboration with CETEST, innovative solutions to reduce aircraft energy consumption. Currently, the TEST-Inn project is designing an innovative load monitoring and application system for the verification and validation of the HLFC (Hybrid Laminar Flow Control), an element integrated into the tail stabiliser of commercial aircraft.

This HLFC technology draws in small volumes of air along an aircraft’s surface. This technique has the potential to reduce drag and, consequently, would mean a 30% reduction in aircraft fuel consumption. Furthermore, with this technological development, IK4-IKERLAN seeks to find new load monitoring and application techniques to contribute to the reduction of development times and costs in the validation of real aeronautical components.

The project is being developed in collaboration with the Testing and Analysis Centre (CETEST), which contributes to the design and manufacture of the test stand where the technologies developed at IK4-IKERLAN are trialled and where the final tests of the HLFC prototype will be carried out.

Data allowing for the step towards new developments

IK4-IKERLAN’s experience in tracking has also found a place in the application of the validation processes of new components in the aeronautical sector. By gathering advanced data on the behaviour of parts made from new materials allows the issuing of perceptive production certificates, thereby reducing the timeframes between the design and application of aeronautics developments.

Presently, the technology centre works within the framework of the Light-Air project, in collaboration with AMADE and AIRBORNE, in the validation of newer and lighter materials for helicopter fuselages that aim at reducing their weight by 15 %.

Other initiatives

IK4-IKERLAN is also immersed in presenting other European proposals regarding advances in technologies where it has a long-standing history in other sectors, such as the new generation of power converters for the increasing electrification of aircraft, high-performance computing platforms performing security functions on aircraft, and validation techniques by testing under representative flight load conditions with fuselage panels manufactured without having to use an autoclave.

Its commitment toward research technologies that reduce fuel consumption and the creation of simpler validation processes is allowing the Basque technological centre to continue making progress in the aeronautical sector and to contribute to strengthening its collaboration with prominent companies in the industry, providing an ever greater technological investment in business development projects.


IK4-IKERLAN is a leading centre for technology transfer and for providing competitive value to companies due, among other things, to the expertise of its researchers. It offers comprehensive solutions by combining different fields of technology in three main areas: Electronics, information and communication technology (EICT), Energy and power electronics and Advanced manufacturing. In 2017, AENOR, has certified IK4-IKERLAN’s comprehensive management system (UNE-EN ISO 9001:2015 and UNE 166002:2014), which is a acknowledging of the excellence of the centre in the R&D&I area. It currently has a staff of approximately 300 people.

Apart from its other national initiatives, IK4-IKERLAN has five ongoing projects within the European framework focused on improving aircraft efficiency.
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