WestJet partners with Aero Design Labs to test first-of-its kind drag reduction system for 737-700

Avatar for Skies MagazineBy Skies Magazine | August 9, 2022

Estimated reading time 5 minutes, 19 seconds.

WestJet recently announced that it is partnering with Fort Worth, Texas-based Aero Design Labs (ADL) on a project that is expected to reduce emissions and improve fuel efficiency on the airline’s 737-700 NG aircraft through drag reduction.

WestJet is the launch customer of ADL’s Aerodynamic Drag Reduction System (ADRS 1) kit, which the engineering company has been quietly developing since 2017. As ADL emerges from stealth mode, the company has confirmed that its ADRS 1 kit has achieved FAA supplemental type certification.

WestJet, the largest 737NG operator in Canada, has been a “key partner” in the installation, certification, and validation of the kit. It’s all part of the airline’s — and the aerospace industry’s — goal to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

A WestJet 737-700 with the ADRS 1 kit modifications, wearing the “Think Green Fly Clean” livery. Alex Praglowski Photo

WestJet and Aero Design Labs “worked together to gather data and findings which drove additional modifications and feedback on the technology, which will be added to the aircraft once approved and validated by Transport Canada for commercial use,” said WestJet in a press release.

ADL is hoping its drag reduction kit will receive Transport Canada approval by the fourth quarter of 2022.  

According to the engineering company, the kit consists of modified fairing on the wings, fuselage, wing tips, and landing gear; revised aerodynamics around the air outlet duct of the environmental control system (ECS) package; and several strategically placed vortex generators.

ADL designed the modifications to address areas of interference and drag around the fuselage that have either previously been ignored, or only partially treated over the life of the aircraft.

The company says the resulting reduced drag translates to fuel cost savings of roughly $12,000 per month (based on an average of $3 per gallon), and a reduction of over 40 tons of CO2 per aircraft per month. Such results would put WestJet in line with the industry’s net-zero 2050 goal.

The predominantly composite kit weighs 180 pounds, but after replacing the original structure on the airframe with the kit, the results are a net gain of just 110 lb.

ADL is anticipating strong demand for its ADRS 1 kit — which would rival the 737 winglet retrofit programs. As such, it has strategically selected a team of manufacturing and distribution companies to industrialize the kit. Aerospace manufacturing and repair firm Nordam will be responsible for producing the majority of production kits, receiving support from Czech manufacturer LA Composite — which made the initial parts for the testing program with WestJet. AAR, an Illinois-based aviation services company, will handle kit distribution. According to ADL, Nordam is expected to produce 92 kits per month initially. Each kit will require roughly 150 hours of labor to install.

The ADL ADRS 1 kit was flight-tested in 2021 and 2022 on a WestJet 737-700. ADL Photo

WestJet and ADL are hopeful that the first approved modified 737-700 aircraft will take flight in the coming months. The airline plans to fly the first modified plane for two to three months to validate the fuel savings. WestJet said it will “continue to work with Aero Design Labs to determine further fleet implementation plans” following regulatory approvals in Canada.  

In the meantime, ADL is working on getting clearance for kits on the larger 737-800 and -900 models by the end of 2022. Delta Air Lines will be a key partner in assisting ADL with the STC for the 737-900 drag reduction kit. If all goes well with the testing program, Delta hopes to roll out the drag reduction kit on its 737NG fleet over the next few years.  

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