Business aviation has a narrow opportunity to take the lead in a reputational battle with protesters by embracing new ideas that range from carbon-reducing fuels and new technologies to digital disruption.
A line-up of speakers at this morning’s keynote sessions spelled out the threats and opportunities for the sector in a rapidly changing global transportation scene.
Policymaker Grant Shapps, a member of the UK parliament and a pilot said: “We need to go back to winning the argument. Explaining why business aviation is essential – the business and social reasons for propelling the economy but we need to clean up our act.
“People are out there changing the political weather, changing the agenda, and in particular, across all sectors of the economy, reminding people about the need to ensure that the future for our planet is one that’s pretty green. When those global protesters start to look across the different areas of concern environmentally, it will not surprise anybody that they are very likely to very quickly round on business aviation.
EBAA secretary-general Athar Husain Khan said the future lies with business aviation.
“New technologies such as electrification, eVTOL, blockchain, artificial intelligence, and alternative fuels are quickening the pace of innovation in aviation. Nowhere is it more prevalent than in business aviation –the industry that sets the bar for air travel and air transport.”
The electric dreams vision is now a reality, said Florian Reuter, chief executive of Volocopter in his address. The company’s two-seat autonomous 18 propeller and nine electric engine urban air taxi is already flying, in production and close to certification by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency.
It has already flown in Dubai and demonstrations are due in Singapore.
Yesterday, the UK Civil Aviation Authority launched a virtual space in which new technology can be safely tested called the Innovation Sandbox, which offers innovative companies the chance to discuss, explore and test emerging concepts.
Volocopter was named as one of the six participants in the initiative.
“Sandbox provides the necessary fertile ground to work with all stakeholders towards making London a city showcase for new forms of mobility,” Reuter said.
Reuter sees a future where fixed-wing business aircraft will fly to traditional airports and Volocopters will take over to bring guests into the congested cities. Business aviation users will be the pioneers, but as costs come down, production increases and the system becomes more familiar, it will roll out further.”
Electric aircraft are the key to solving noise and emission challenges, he said.
“We’ve had great debates internally on what would be the vitality and power source for our vehicle. And we’ve heard the remarks on the necessity to get to zero emission, make another step towards sustainability. And it was very clear for us that if we want to apply our vehicle inside the city centres of the sea of the future, there’s no way around going all electric today,” added Reuter.
“In the long run, we do believe that the fuel cell can play a very significant role, but we never believed in going hybrid with conventional fuels or anything of that sort, simply because I believe the societal and political pressure in the coming years wil get so tremendous that it does not make sense to invest millions and millions of dollars in a technology that we expect not to be allowed [in] the city of the future. This is not the type of city that we want to see for our children.