Revolution.Aero’s The Week in Focus: A question of rules

Deep Dive

Boom’s XB1 - the firm’s first fully carbon-neutral supersonic aircraft programme.

Boom’s XB1 – the firm’s first fully carbon-neutral supersonic aircraft programme.

Climb aboard, punch in your departure gate or your baggage carousel and the little trolley will take you there. It is already under test at JFK and, to many air passengers’ minds, it probably can’t come soon enough at other airports.

All of which points to a glorious future. But until that sunny dawn, most of us remain obliged to use increasingly crowded airports serving increasingly crowded airliners. At least one airline, BA, has come up with and is testing a system of autonomous mobility vehicles to carry passengers around airports.

And then there’s the government. In the States the US Air Force is doing almost everything (apart from providing development funding or establishing specifications) to encourage manufacturers to develop the eUAVs (electric unmanned aerial vehicles) and eVTOLs the service it expects to need. As Aviation Week reports: “The service wants to help developers along the way to commercial certification and volume production by providing testing resources and possibly enabling a near-term government public-use market for their vehicles in advance of FAA certification.”

We are, it appears, on the threshold of a rapid growth in air transport vehicles that will far surpass that seen since Wilbur and Orville showed us that man could fly. And firms that currently supply the aircraft manufacturing industry are gearing up for the next round. Take a look, for example, at the report by Aviation Week on how parts and components manufacturers such as  Spirit AeroSystems, Austria’s FAA and Triumph Group’s Aerospace Structures are tying up deals with UAV and other start-ups. The manufacturers might or might not make it, but the firms that supply them and have spread their bets could have far better chances.

Of course, when it comes to environmental considerations, it is not simply a matter of moving away from currently conventional aviation fuels. At the other end of the spectrum, we have projects developing supersonic passenger and business jets. According to the Robb Report Boom Supersonic’s XB-1 passenger jet prototype will be “carbon neutral”. I’ve put the words in parentheses because, though the jet will be powered with what the company says are sustainable aviation fuels, carbon neutrality is only achieved by planting trees to offset the carbon emitted by the plane.

But it is more than controlling airspace, there is also the potential environmental impact of the increased traffic to be considered. Let’s start with the, thus far, unconventional – that of electric-powered aircraft.  The report by Business Airport International deals with  how electric VTOLs (eVTOLs)  are predicted to change the world of business aviation within just a few years and, potentially, for ever. But again, we are faced with rules being devised by the FAA and its counterpart across the Atlantic, the European Aviation Safety Administration, rules that differ, that have their specific advantages and that have their specific drawbacks.

The concept is taken further by Commercial UAV News and AINonline, particularly when it comes to property owners needing to prepare their buildings ahead of the advent of new air-traffic regulations.

Even in the US, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) accepts that, with its current analogue system of manned by air-traffic controllers, it cannot possibly cope with the deluge of aircraft that is coming. Digital controls, the newspaper says, are the way forward and it then enumerates them.

We know that there are three challenges to filling the air with flying cars and drones –  and two of them, technology and finance, are being pursued with zeal. It is the third, the newspaper says, that is more difficult – regulating a country’s airspace so that manned and unmanned vehicles can operate safely. It’s a good deal more complex than the rules of the road for surface transport.

There are times, as most of us will have found when trying to cope with a flood of news stories, when one feels the need to step back and look at where we are heading. That is heading in general terms rather than in the specifics of this, that or the other technology. And this is what an article in the Financial Times attempts to do.


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