The refueling of aircraft systems is conducted when there is a scarcity of aviation fuel on the aircraft. This process is carried out by different procedures such as tanking, air-to-air fueling, and inflight refueling. There are two types of air refueling which are extensively used and those are flying boom method, and hose and drogue method. The air refueling system is mainly done by defense aircrafts and are being introduced in the commercial sector. The tanking system is employed heavily in both defense and commercial sectors.
The demand for air-to-air refueling is growing because it helps in takeoff with lesser payload. Defense aircrafts consist of weapons, cargo as well as personnel. In addition, if the aircraft is fully fueled, it may hamper the aircraft to takeoff. Air-to-air refueling helps to top up the aircraft for long range flying and also to loiter. This factor is driving the aircraft refueling market to a great extent. Moreover, inflight refueling or air-to-air refueling has been considered as a means of reducing the fuel consumption for long distance flights of more than 3000 nautical miles. The reduction in fuel consumption will reduce the fuel charges which will in turn be financially beneficial for the respective airlines as well as the defense forces. This factor is likely to propel the aircraft refueling market.
The major limitation to this procedure of midair aircraft refueling is the rough air or bad visibility. Both the refueling procedures are possible in smooth air but not in rough air, as it is totally dependent on the communication between the tanker aircraft pilot/ hose operator and the receiver aircraft pilot. The boom mechanism has few limitations such as it can refuel one aircraft at a time and it requires reduction in refueling pressure while refueling a fighter aircraft. These limitations are hindering factors to the boom mechanized aircraft refueling market.
Research and development are being conducted to design a smart drogue system to overcome rough air refueling. The aircraft refueling market can be segmented based on refueling method and geography.
There are different methods to refuel an aircraft while in flight such as flying boom method, hose and drogue system, and wing-to-wing refueling. The flying boom method uses a rigid boom that is extended from the tanker aircraft and is attached to the receiver aircraft’s upper frontal structure. The tanker aircrafts equipped with boom mechanism consists of only one boom which is capable of refueling only one aircraft at a time. The other method of refueling is the hose and drogue method where the hose is extended from the trailing part of the tanker aircraft and the drogue at the end of the hose stabilizes it in the flight and provides a funnel for the receiver aircraft. The drogue then inserts a probe into the hose with which the aircraft is refueled. The aircraft equipped with hose and drogue system can refuel two aircrafts simultaneously as this system can employ two mechanisms at a time. Wing-to-wing system is similar to the hose and drogue system but is more complicated. The tanker aircraft releases a hose from its wingtips which has to be caught by the receiver aircraft flying alongside with a special lock under its wingtip. To establish the connection the hose has to be locked. There are tanker aircrafts equipped with both the boom mechanism as well as hose and drogue systems, but only one system can be used at a time.
Based on geography, the market can be segmented as North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, and Latin America. North America is the leading user of refueling aircrafts followed by Europe and Asia-Pacific. Key vendors in the refueling aircraft market are Airbus Group (France), Boeing Company (U.S.), Lockheed Martin (U.S.), and Dassault Rafale (France).
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