A look beyond the horizon

In 1804 daring steam train travellers hurtled through the ether at speeds of 20mph. Later, flag waving men protected the public from early automobiles. So it’s hardly surprising there is fierce opposition to the latest transport breakthrough.

Unmanned air vehicles are the 21st century’s unwanted children. They are used as toys, narrowly miss aircraft, and spy on us. So should these highly capable devices fall under the auspices of the corporate flight department?

CEPA chairman Roger Whyte and aviation consultant Roland Vincent argue “yes.” They come complete with airfoils, the ability to fly, and the potential to do some serious good. They are already in use in remote areas in Rwanda delivering drugs, and have applications ranging from photography, to pipeline checks. However, as they will inhabit airspace, they should fall under the wing of aeronautical people.

Meanwhile back on the ground, hundreds of piloted air vehicles stagnate unflown, in a tepid second hand market. Vincent is not predicting any great change for the foreseeable future, thanks to political instability and a large complement of aircraft for sale, likely due to overproduction in recent years, coupled with a lack of market confidence.

When these aircraft become airborne again, they’ll need to be able to take on biofuel, use quieter engines, and purify their emissions to meet stringent targets mandated for 2050. Global aviation must then reduce its nitrous oxide emissions by 90%, noise by 60% and decrease its carbon dioxide output to a quarter of levels measured in 2000. The kicker is that there will be twice the number of aircraft flying – around 36,000 ferrying seven billion passengers, up from 3.5 bn today. A tall order? This industry is noted for innovation, despite some experimental casualties. Even the Wright Flyer only flew for one day.