Page last updated at 08:20 GMT, Friday, 13 June 2008 09:20 UK

Aeronautical advances 'looming'

By James Gallagher
BBC News

A cornerstone of the textile industry is now being used in engineering

The humble loom, once at the heart of the textile industry across Northern Ireland, could be about to make a comeback.

However it is not clothes they could be making, but aeroplanes.

Engineers at the University of Ulster's Engineering Composites Research Centre, which is based at Jordanstown near Belfast, are using a modified loom to weave carbon fibres.

The result is a "composite material", lighter and stronger than aluminium.

The centre's acting director, Dr Justin Quinn, said saving weight meant saving money.

"The lighter the aircraft the more payload and passengers it can carry, and it can reduce carbon emissions by not using as much fuel to lug around unnecessary weight in the frame and wings," he said.

Composites can be used for anything from wing components to seating.

Bombardier Aerospace, Belfast, has been developing these materials for 40 years.

Their vice-president, Michael Ryan, said they were keen to cut the environmental impact of flying: "Our next generation composite wing programme provides an important opportunity to take further steps towards more environmentally friendly aircraft."

Boeing 787
Half of the Boeing 787 is made of composite materials

The depth of composite knowledge in Northern Ireland has attracted the world's largest aerospace firm, Boeing.

Their director of UK Industrial Participation, Brian Moran, has discussed opportunities with businesses and academics.

"Both on the defence and commercial side, the trend is clearly going towards composites," he said.

"To find capabilities in the supply base in Northern Ireland is exciting to us, and we're really looking forward to see what they have to offer."

Half of their Boeing 787 Dreamliner, including most of the wings and fuselage, is made of composite materials.

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