It was only some 110+ years ago that the Wright brothers, the owners of a Dayton, Ohio bicycle shop, pioneered powered flight and brought mankind into the age of “aeromobility.”
Today, we take for granted that we can fly virtually to the furthest corners of the world within the span of a 24-hour day. Within the next 100 years, we can probably not even imagine what distances we will be able to cover in a day. While the reality of what the industry will look like in 2050 will show some similarities to today, the differences will be real and, in some cases, stark.
By mid-century, the Aeromobility ecosystem of 2050 is likely to be a blend of private and public companies and agencies working together. Airports may be joined by spaceports as private space travel takes flight. Air traffic management systems could evolve into integrated commercial and suborbital space flight management systems where subsonic commercial aircraft share air corridors with spacecraft. Watching spacecraft take off from spaceports may captivate the imagination of the next generation’s children.
Perhaps the best phrase to capture the essence of Aeromobility is “Disruptive Innovation.” An article published by AlixPartners in Insight speaks to this idea. Disruptive Innovation comes in the form of a new product, technology, material, or process that leads to a step change in performance or efficiency. It can be about new business models or service offering; in short, it changes the game.
Of course, this type of innovation really isn’t new for the aerospace industry. Beginning with the 12 seconds of flight over the dunes of Kitty Hawk in 1903, aviation has been a series of game-changing ideas and technological advances.
It’s only natural to expect more of the same.
So, what does the future hold for the aerospace industry? For starters, our thinking must be expanded to go from commercial aviation to commercial space age where we do not just “fly” to move mankind, but use the skies for a new age of business and commerce.
This understanding has brought new players in the game beginning to have significant impacts. Since 2002, SpaceX has cut industry-standard development costs by a factor of four and operating costs by two. Titan Aerospace’s solar-powered drone fleets have been acquired by Google. O3b has developed a fleet of medium-Earth-orbit satellites. And, nanosatellites developed by CubeSat are produced and launched at a fraction of the cost of their geostationary cousins.
New technologies are helping re-shaping the entire R&D process and drive the future cost curves even lower. 3-D printing, or additive manufacturing is seen by some as the beginning of a third industrial revolution. Lightweight aircraft seats are being made with 10 times fewer components and 50 percent weight reduction; and big-data applications include in-service data that facilitates the trend and the health monitoring of engines or aircraft and inventory management.
What does this all mean? I believe it means we all have a choice. Do we wait to catch up with these developments and advancements, or do we choose to have a part in shaping them?
SAE International and especially its members have chosen the latter since the dawn of aerospace.
That commitment continues today. We have technical standards addressing the most relevant issues and technologies facing the aerospace industry – such as a steering group developing the standardization strategy for more electric aircraft and hybrid-electric propulsion. A standards activity dedicated to seating for commercial spacecraft. A technical committee writing the specifications to develop and certify additive manufactured product for the aerospace industry. And technologies like Integrated Vehicle Health Management (IVHM). Just recently, SAE International released ARP6803: “IVHM Concepts, Technology and Implementation Overview.” This standard provides crucial overview of the concepts, technologies, and implementation practices associated with designing and implementing an (IVHM) capability on an aerospace platform which can use the new data paradigm to revolutionize aircraft maintenance and reliability.
Our members and volunteers have helped shaped the aerospace industry we see today; and through this type of standards development, I know that we will have a strong voice in its future.