As an experienced technology expert and strategist, Professor Terry Knibb, BAE Systems’s chief scientist, gets awfully excited about those breakthrough technologies that promise to radically shrink the environmental footprint of air transport.
But even he has to admit that sometimes it’s hard to take the whole industry with you.
Speaking at the Royal Aeronautical Society’s recent Facing Up To The Future conference he told delegates about the efforts of the European Out of the Box (OOTB) think tank which was set the task to come up with some pretty radical ideas about future air travel.
Linking people and their luggage with the aircraft was one of them, an effort that would feature advanced IT devices to assist the passenger, advanced security and tracking systems, advanced airport design features and even new aircraft design including a more modular design.
The objective? To speed the passenger onto the aircraft in seamless fashion – from the front doors of their homes to their ultimate destination.
But they hit one snag. They didn’t take into account: the fact that an airport’s economic model has come to rely heavily on the revenues from passenger spend…those passengers who, as Knibb pointed out, “spend hours wandering around bored out of their skulls”.
Oh dear. Back to the drawing boards, chaps!
He explained how support for these blue sky concepts has grown out of the work of a high level European air transport forum which in 2001 published a vision on the requirements of the air transport system in 2020 setting out quantitative goals in CO2, NOx and noise reductions while increasing safety levels.
This forum, the Advisory Council for Aeronautic Research in Europe (ACARE), urged that in order to stimulate any technological step change in the second half of this century, the European Commission would need to get some pretty bold visioneers to identify those novel concepts and technologies that would demand revolutionary changes to the system.
The OOTB project was duly established with the brief to be forward looking rather than be expected to deliver immediate technological solutions.
Initial studies resulted in 100 far-out and not so far-out ideas which were then whittled down to those seen as holding the most promise, offering the prospect of substantial impact and benefit to the air transport system this side of the 22nd century.
Five further areas which showed near-er term promise:
• Personal air transport systems including a comprehensive concept for the use of such as system which would require bespoke technologies
• Use of ground-based means to reduce airborne mass and power including research into alternative power sources, energy efficiency as well as research into mechanics like water landing, airframe adaptation, parafoils etc
• The airborne cruiser/feeder concept involving large cruisers flying patterns around the globe with smaller feeder aircraft to transfer passengers
• A globalised autonomous aircraft guidance featured a totally automated air traffic control system using autonomous aircraft operations
• New means of propulsion featuring direct energy conversion that dispenses with the turbofan engine, alternative physics, electric chemistry, heat management etc and a different propulsion layout, higher efficiency like plasma aerodynamics.
Learn more about the successor CREating innovative Air transport Technologies for Europe (CREATE) project which aims to stimulate the development and the capture of know-how and technologies which will enable step changes for sustainable air travel in the second half of the century
FutureProof has highlighted some of those 100 ideas and you’ll find those at out Gallery of Future Concepts. Click on the images to see a short explanation.