Innovation has long been the beating heartbeat of the aviation industry. With air travel projected to double in 20 years’ time, I’m fascinated to see countless new and exciting products hit the market.
Many consumers are now willing to look beyond price, meaning that speed and comfort have come to the forefront for offerings in this space.
Technological advances are making all this possible for what I expect to be a revolutionary next five years:
Collaborating with GE and Boeing, Aerion are developing the first privately built supersonic commercial aircraft ever – the AS2.
This is the first attempt at a supersonic aircraft since the concord, with this intended for the business and private aviation markets, accommodating up to 12 passengers in a 30-foot-long cabin.
The aim is for the AS2 to be on the market for June 2023. That’s if the preliminary design stage is completed by June 2020 and certification is achieved in the following two years.
Traditionally, the business and private market has largely focused on increasing in size, range and passenger comfort. This hasn’t been ignored in the AS2 design, with advanced aerodynamics making the aircraft extremely quiet and its flights smooth – offering maximum comfort to passengers.
However, adding speed is the game-changer. This aircraft is expected to get passengers to their destination 67% faster than current or anticipated long-range subsonic jets – a leap comparable to time travel.
Combining speed with a comfortable flying experience, supersonic jets will be hugely popular with consumers. Being first on the scene will be a huge plus for Aerion and help the company on its way to becoming a flagship brand in the market.
Like birds with wings, supersonic jets can’t fly without supersonic engines. That’s where GE come in.
Their GE Affinity is a turbofan developed to power the Aerion AS2. Launched in May 2017 and its design completed in 2018, the first prototype production of this engine is expected to be completed by 2020.
The GE Affinity is optimised for supersonic flight over water and subsonic flight over land. On top of this, it’s designed to meet Stage 5 subsonic noise requirements, as well as current emissions standards.
GE claims Affinity will have an operational ceiling of 60,000 feet and the highest bypass ratio of any supersonic engine.
As the only provider of supersonic jet engines, GE will play a pivotal role in the future of this market. They are already working on multiple projects in this space, including Nasa’s new supersonic jet, the X-59.
While supersonic jets are still some way from commercialisation, Boeing’s vCabins begin trials this year and are likely to be rolled out across all Boeing aircrafts – if trials are successful.
This means that passengers will be able to control their surroundings using an App. They’ll be able to turn on and off lights, order food, check the availability of toilets and more, all from their personal mobile device.
This App will be accompanied by a Siri-like cabin assistant called ‘Ellen’, which will be integrated to further the passenger’s in-flight experience. No other aviation company is doing this.
Providing benefits like increased passenger comfort and better efficiency for aircraft staff, I predict this to be a huge hit with consumers and more similar products to come onto the market.
This technology is extremely exciting and just the beginning, as automation and IoT begin to play more influential roles in air travel.
Another space likely to take-off – very punny – is the air taxi market. Major players like Bell Flight, Uber, Lilium and Aurora Flight Sciences are already emerging as pioneers of this market.
Although it sounds a very futuristic concept, we’re not too far away from commercialisation at all – expected by 2023-2025.
Uber are aiming to be first on the market, working with manufacturers from Aurora Flight Sciences - part of Boeing - Pipistrel Aircraft, Embraer, Bell and Karem Aircraft to create an electric passenger drone.
Uber Air will start test flights of its aerial taxi service in 2020 and move to commercial operations by 2023 with flights costing $5 a mile. This is a very ambitious turnaround time and require serious funding to be accomplished.
German company, Lilium, have a more achievable launch date of 2025 and have already successfully completed their first test flight. Their aircraft is powered by 36 different electrical engines and has the capability to travel over 250km in 58 minutes.
That’s not all. More competition is coming from Bell Helicopter, a Textron Inc. company, who are also aiming to enter the market with their Bell Nexus. Powered by a hybrid-electric propulsion system, their aircraft features Bell’s signature powered lift concept, incorporating six tilting ducted fans.
As far as this market is concerned, speed of commercialisation is everything with it likely to decide who becomes the established market leader in this space. Twists and turns are expected. It will be interesting to see who comes out on top, as new players enter this competitive space.
There you have it. Time travel, smart cabins and air taxis shaping the future of aviation. As these technologies receive approvals, become commercialised and grow, they’re sure to impact the industry in a big way – with other big companies in this space already taking notice.
What’s next? I can’t wait to see.
If you’d like to learn more about these exciting companies or would like to tell us about your company and collaborate with us at CM Industrial, please get in touch.
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