ATI’s Scott Pendry highlights some of the ATI’s views contained in the Institute’s recent response to the DfT Aviation 2050 green paper.

The DfT’s consultation on the future of aviation comes at an exciting time and we welcomed the paper. Arguably right now is an inflection point for air transport, a period when aviation is poised to go through the biggest change in fifty years as a result of aircraft designs and operating concepts enabled by new technologies including electric propulsion and the increased use of automation.  As a result of these changes, existing aircraft will not only become more efficient but new markets will be created, such as low-cost regional routes and urban/city air routes, which will take advantage of new aircraft designs.  It’s a hugely exciting time for aerospace – not only will these innovations improve connectivity, they will be enabled by technologies that are environmentally sustainable and, as my colleague Simon Weeks wrote recently, could benefit from significant ATI funding for improved environmental performance.

Given our role in establishing the Future Flight Challenge, our response talked extensively about the transformative impact the Challenge will have in considering, and ultimately developing, the infrastructure, policy and regulation required to incorporate new forms of electric, autonomous and unmanned aviation into the air transport system.  However, the consultation also gave us a few concerns – if we, the UK, really want to have a long-term aviation strategy out to 2050, we need to consider the infrastructure required to enable future air transport concepts and intermodality, concepts that will underpin the operation and commercial feasibility of new forms of air transport.

The key role of infrastructure

Connectivity is crucial to promoting regional growth and increased productivity, but new routes and markets won’t be created without the physical infrastructure required to enable new vehicles to take-off and land (either vertically or horizontally), charge and wait for passengers.

With the pace of electric aircraft development increasing, the Aviation 2050 Strategy needs to ensure that infrastructure development is in step with technology development, as failure to do so could stifle the development of new air transport operations in the UK.

For urban air mobility VTOL aircraft, a distributed network of ‘vertiports’ or ‘skyports’ (VTOL hubs with multiple take-off and landing pads, as well as charging infrastructure) or single-aircraft vertistops (a single VTOL pad with minimal infrastructure) is essential. Likewise, for conventional take-off and landing aircraft, a network of small airports and airfields, complete with suitable charging infrastructure and maintenance facilities is an absolute necessity.

A further infrastructure consideration is the provision of 5G communication networks which will allow the precise navigation that is needed for new aerial vehicles, many of which will be operated autonomously.

Intermodality – aviation should be an integral part of the future transport mix

New aircraft will only become a useful component of tomorrow’s mobility if they are integrated into the overall transport network of cities and regions – new urban and regional aircraft should be thought of within the context of multi-modal transport solutions.

It’s therefore important that the final Aviation 2050 paper recognises that new skyports and smaller airports/airfields should also be treated as connectivity hubs, ready for multimodal journeys to and from destinations which might also involve a pooled car, bus or rail journey at either end.

Electrification and automation – a growing focus of the ATI

We’re working with established organisations in the sector, as well as more disruptive companies from outside the sector, to identify new projects which will position the UK as a world leader in the development of electric and autonomous aircraft. The E-Fan X is one of our most high-profile projects and, thanks to the Paris Airshow, is now gaining a significant amount of media attention.

There are many more projects like E-Fan X that we are keen to support and we want to work with companies of all sizes who have innovative ideas that will keep the UK competitive.

To read the ATI’s response to the DfT in full, please click here.

Our thanks to Dr Simon Weeks, Chief Technology Officer of the Institute, for this blog.

The ATI was delighted to see the recent joint commitment of seven CTOs from the world’s largest commercial aviation manufacturers to work to reduce the net CO2 emissions from aviation. They are on the way to meet the near-term targets set out by the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for Aviation (CORSIA). Having played a leading role in the definition of the broader EU Flightpath 2050 environmental impact goals in 2011, I was also really pleased to see their renewed commitment to those too. At the Paris Air Show, where the announcement was made, I had the opportunity to meet with some of these industry leaders and hear their intent directly.

One of the major themes of the ATI’s UK aerospace technology strategy and associated technology programmes, including the Future Flight Challenge, is improved environmental performance; around half of the ATI Programme investment is directly concerned with this. In the UK, our leading technological capabilities in wings, propulsion and systems will make a large contribution to improving environmental performance in the coming years. With the UK government’s commitment for zero net carbon by 2050, the ATI is working with industry and academia to develop a route map for aviation’s contribution.

For wings, we see opportunities to improve the overall fuel efficiency and hence CO2 emissions of aircraft by reducing aerodynamic drag and ‘lightweighting’ using advanced composites. Lightweight composite structures technologies will enable airframers to produce longer, thinner wings for better aerodynamic efficiency. Research on ways to actively enhance laminar low drag flow across wings is already well advanced. Ultimately, we would like to enable structures to reshape themselves, morphing through a flight to further optimise aerodynamics.

On jet engines, ultra-high bypass engine technologies will improve propulsive, aerodynamic and thermodynamic efficiencies, reducing fuel consumption. In the future, electrification of propulsion offers the prospect of simultaneous production of thrust alongside enhancing airframe aerodynamics.

Work on aircraft systems technologies is aimed at making them ever more energy efficient and lighter. Software defined systems will reduce the number and weight of avionics units in an aircraft. Systems will progressively become all-electric, improving the aircraft energy efficiency.

Electrified propulsion, hybrid for longer ranges and all-electric for shorter ranges is heralding in the so-called ‘third age’ of aviation, with the prospect of new markets for urban and sub-regional aviation. With the right integration of technologies at the air vehicle level, there is the real prospect of zero net carbon flight from the outset for these exciting developments.

Achieving zero net carbon flight will need technologies on aircraft and across other areas that impact the carbon emissions from the aviation industry. New sustainable manufacturing technologies will reduce factory carbon emissions and require dramatically less raw materials. We will need to make the flight patterns of aircraft shorter and more energy-efficient through the development and application of new ways of managing air traffic. Technologies for low-carbon impact drop-in fuels – both bio-derived and synthetic – need to be accelerated. Electrified aviation will need zero net carbon electricity from land-based power generation. The UK is world leading in these areas and hence has every opportunity to make progress on both national and international stages.

Going forward, the ATI will be regularly highlighting the progress being made on aviation’s journey to lower environmental impact. If you have any ideas of areas where we could be doing more to help, please let me know!

Photo: © Airbus