Scenarios for the future of aviation

OK, I need some help. I’m doing a talk about the future of aviation to the British Air Line Pilots Association (BALPA). It’s essentially a trends talk, but I want to end on a slide showing a rough scenario matrix outlining four alternatives futures. I think it’s a no brainer (or maybe not?) that one axis takes into account the price of oil ( the deep driver being something else).

So what’s the other axis? In an ideal world it would be something technical or professional because BALPA is a professional association and trade union. I quite like degree of automation or something around business models, but I’m not sure.

What else is there? Maybe something around the expansion of low-cost airlines (maybe a link here with union representation, training budgets and so on?), level of substitution from other forms of transport, climate change (carbon costs), evolution of technology (especially UAVs), need/desire to travel (growth of telepresence through to terrorism), level of affluence (economy in general), airline industry consolidation or something around professionalism or reputation.

BTW, in my travels around cyber-space I’ve found a few quite good sources around the future of aviation. The best one, in my view, is the Future of Aviation 2025 another reasonable one is Rethinkng Aviation and there is also a Future Scenarios for European Aviation report, some 2050 Vision work from Airbus  and something quite nice from IBM.

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5 Responses to Scenarios for the future of aviation

  1. Mischa Canibal says:

    Velocity vs. Experience, maybe?

    Travelling in the Orient Express train to China to discover the whole deep of a continent instead of an fast-food alike plane trip.

    Going to NYC or Buenos Aires by ship like the european inmigrants did in 19th/20th century and be amused by the greatness of the Atlantic Ocean?

  2. Jeff De Cagna says:

    I’m thinking axes of need/desire to travel and business models. Looking at it in this way will bring in all of the key themes and will probably be more interesting than building scenarios primarily on the price of oil.

  3. gerry breislin says:

    If electric cars will one day replace fossil fuel driven models, who’s working on the electric aeroplane?

  4. Richard Watson says:

    Oil price is only one axis – the other will be something quite different.

  5. Richard Watson says:

    Electric planes (to answer the question)

    The airline industry is currently under pressure to clean up its act and become greener, but most current solutions offer little more than marginal improvements. Biofuels and hydrogen could make an impact in terms of emissions but both suffer from supply constraints, amongst other issues. So how about electricity? Can you power a plane with an electric motor? The answer is yes, but there are problems. Small sports planes are light enough to take off under electric power, but large commercial aircraft can’t. The problem is primarily the batteries. With a conventional 200-seater airplane weighing in at 115 tons, roughly a third of the weight is liquid fuel. If such a plane was electrically powered you would need 3,000 tons of lithium-ion batteries. A weighty problem if ever there was one. But there are solutions on the horizon.

    For example, electric motors are very efficient, so it might be possible to build a hybrid plane that uses conventional jet fuel for take-off and climb and then switches to eco-friendly electric power for cruising (precisely where fossil fuels do most of their damage). Increasing wingspans would help increase lift and it’s quite possible that many of the lightweight batteries and other components currently being developed for electric and hybrid cars may eventually find their way onto planes. Boeing and Airbus (and NASA) are developing ideas for electric planes, but don’t expect to see one until 2030 at the earliest. And if you think this is just blue-sky thinking that won’t get off the ground, you could be wrong. Indeed, it’s always possible that traffic congestion down on the ground might fuel the serious development of personal flying vehicles or PFVs. The idea here is that because electric planes are so quiet they could one day be used in built up areas without causing complaints. This is wild and crazy thinking but as Michael Dudley, Chief of NASA’s Fleet Vehicle Research and Technology Division puts it: ‘Over time they (the ideas) will sort themselves out and you end up with optimum designs’.

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