Air transport started after the First World War using old military airplanes that were modified to carry passengers. The further development in civil aviation was in general characterized by incremental improvements. But every 16 years there was a step change as illustrated by figure 1.
The metal aircraft were the first step change followed by the first turbo prop and jet powered aircraft, followed by the introduction of supersonic transport and the Jumbo jet and in the mid 1980ies the first all composite aircraft and the ETOPS business model were introduced.
It is significant that there were no obvious step changes in the early 2000’s, at the time one would have expected the next step change, based on previous experience and a typical cycle. The Boeing Sonic Cruiser was not accepted by the market as an efficient alternative to current airliners. Perhaps the introduction of very light jets will prove to have been a business model step change in the early years of this decade. The availability of satellite navigation, communication and surveillance could also prove to be a step change, although this development was not pushed solely by the air transport sector which currently still uses 1940’s technology for guidance and control.
This absence of major step changes in 2000 for the Air Transport system served, in part, to stimulate the creation of a Group of Personalities in Europe, headed by the European Commissioner Busquin, in 2000, to think about the future of aviation.
The GoP set high level and ambitious goals for the air transport system in 2020. It was apparent that these goals could not be met by incremental changes in technology or business models. Something else had to happen.
The advice of the GoP resulted in setting up of a European Technology Platform ACARE, which published 2 Strategic Research Agendas. The purpose of these agendas was to guide European research towards the goals set by the GoP. However, no assurance was given that the proposed research programmes that resulted from the SRAs would enable the Vision 2020 of the GoP to become a reality. In fact the current research projects are very much of an incremental nature again and it is doubtful that incremental steps will be sufficient to reach the high level goals for 2020, as was also observed by some of the technical teams contributing to SRA-2 that called for a paradigm shift or breakthrough if the goals were to be reached.
ACARE has decided that it needs to start working towards a 3rd SRA to be published in 2012 and looking at the future of aviation in 2040-2050.
The environment for aviation has, however, changed since the GoP goals were set in 2000 and new goals need to be agreed upon in 2010 before a new Agenda can be compiled.
Like the previous editions, this new Agenda will need to be pan-European in its scope, encompassing the enlarged Europe but remaining focused on the two top level objectives identified in the Vision 2020 European competitiveness and satisfaction of the society’s need for an efficient air transport system. All this will need to be done in a sustainable way. Europe needs to remain at the forefront of aerospace innovation to maintain its competitiveness.
It is expected that these goals will be even more challenging than the ones formulated in 2000. Especially with respect to global warming due to aviation and the fuel availability, demographic changes, the emphasis on the passenger comfort zone and the development of the Far East are also issues that need more attention than in the previous strategic thinking in ACARE.
Certainly the development of Air Transport will again depend on step changes in the near future. Contrary to the past, where step changes in civil aviation were benefiting from many developments in military aviation, civil aviation will now need to find its own creative solutions to ensure that the demand for Air Transport can be met by sustainable supply.
The observation that incremental improvements of the air transport system would be insufficient to reach the high level goals for air transport was especially voiced by the European Commission services. The idea was launched to start a project to look for potential developments that could initiate step changes and breakthrough technologies, leading to the Out of the Box project.
The table shows the ideas generated during the workshop and the clustering of ideas that was done afterwards.
The Out of the Box project was also noted by other transport modalities (e.g. marine sector).
Develop your own idea on Innopedia - Follow this link to our general introduction.