F is for a Flying Future, Fuels, Funds, Forests, Foods & Fibres
As November 2014 marked the launch of my latest book “Mr SIA: Fly Past”, we give you a significant chunk of the last chapter “Flying into the Future” as it has a sustainable prescription for what “flies ahead”, with solar, safer and quieter supersonic, along with lighter, more fuel efficient aircraft to lead to a 50% cut in aviation emissions by 2050. The year also saw advances in Fuels (the jet bio kind), Funds for a cleaner energy future, Fibre of the carbon variety for cars and aircraft, plus Food security and less waste, Forest Fires on the rise and greater Forest protection to come. Read More
Extracts from Chapter 23 in the book “Mr SIA” Fly Past” by Ken Hickson, published by World Scientific Publishing (November 2014):
“For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.”
(Leonardo da Vinci,1452 – 1519)
Flying into the Future
Is the future of flight something dreams are made of or is it much more down to earth?
Do we aspire to quietly fly with the angels or the birds? Or blast off into space at the unbearable speed of light to break the sound barrier? Or do we just want to enjoy the air travel experience as much as we welcome arriving at our destination?
Airbus conducted a very comprehensive survey in 2012 involving 10,000 people around the world who said what they wanted from the future of flight. The call was definitely for more flying, in a more sustainable way and a less stressful experience. Here are a few of the key findings:
- 63% of people worldwide say they will fly more by 2050
- 60% do not think social media will replace the need to see people face-to-face
- 96% believe aircraft will need to be more sustainable or ‘eco-efficient’
- Almost 40% feel air travel (door-to-door) is increasingly stressful
- 86% of people think less fuel burn is key
- 85% want to see a reduction in carbon emissions
- 66% want quieter aircraft
- 65% would like to see planes which are fully recyclable.
Besides carrying out such an educational survey, Airbus is doing a lot of work on design for future flight, including creating radical blueprints for concept planes and aircraft interiors. It is all about learning more of the technologies and innovations that come together in an engineer’s dream for a concept plane. It is also using ‘biomimicry’ or biologically inspired engineering. A growing number of aeronautical innovations are inspired by an array of natural structures, organs and materials. These tried and tested patterns of the natural world will continue to be a powerful source of inspiration in the future.
Lim Chin Beng is a airline man who has lived through practically all stages of the development of flight – through 9 of the 11 decades since the first commercial flight got off the ground in 1914 – so not only does he know a thing or two about the past and present flying machines, but he has some perceptive views for the future too.
When Mr Lim talked about tourism and its benefits to a conference in Singapore way back in 1988, he pointed to the five important factors for the tourist industry to always bear in mind: the economic and the manpower factors for a start, which were so important for the economic viability and sustainability of the industry.
But he put equal emphasis on what matters to people, to the tourists themselves. He points to the cultural factor and the exotic factor. Being conscious of the cultural and social implications as well as impacts of tourism – whether intended or not – as well as providing for the human craving for exoticism and excitement.
But the fifth factor, which was very relevant to him at the time when he was both an airline man and a committed promoter of a tourist destination (Singapore), was the accessibility factor.
He called for the industry – airlines, civil aviation authorities and tourism organisations – “to bring down the barriers to travel”.
Freedom of the skies is still not a reality everywhere. Great strides have been made and most of the worst protectionist countries have opened up and allowed airlines of other countries access to destinations and markets.
He would like to see more being done in the future to make sure there are no barriers to airlines or the countries they originate from or want to fly to and through.
The flying experience has certainly improved with newer and more efficient aircraft, but as more are flying and the low cost carriers have helped make that happen, the infrastructure on the ground has struggled to keep up.
He believes the pleasure of travel – now and in the future – should start with the airport experience. He is well aware that some airports are bad enough to put people off air travel for life!
Some airports are managing very well because they plan ahead. At Singapore Changi Airport the comfort and convenience of the passenger is uppermost and it still wins awards, he is pleased to see, because management is thinking ahead and providing for the future of air travel now.
How does Changi do it? While always making sure security and safety is taken into account, there is remarkably good co-operation amongst all the Government agencies – immigration, customs, police – to ensure that departures and arrivals go smoothly. Good systems are in place to cope with the growing volume of traffic day and night.
An example, not only as to how Singapore thinks ahead, but also to show how willing it is to share, is the planned World Airport Expo in February 2015.
The intrusion of drones – unmanned aircraft used largely up until now for military purposes – into the preserve of air freight companies for shipment of goods and mail deliveries, should make some airlines sit up to see what the flying freight future holds. This Reuters report shows that Google and Amazon are trialing drones for deliveries:
Google is developing airborne drones capable of flying on their own and delivering anything from candy to medicine.
The effort, which Google calls Project Wing, marks the company’s latest expansion beyond its Web-based origins and could help Google break into lucrative markets such as commerce and package delivery, ratcheting up the competition with Amazon.com.
Google rival Amazon.com Inc announced plans last year 2013) to use aerial delivery drones for a service called “Prime Air.”
In 2012, Congress required the FAA to establish a road map for the broader use of drones. The FAA has allowed limited use of drones in the United States for surveillance, law enforcement, atmospheric research and other applications.
He told MBA students in 2005:
I would venture that the sector length of future flights will be determined not by the technical aspect of the aircraft but by the maximum hours that passengers can endure being cooped up in an aircraft. Another interesting aviation milestone is that all the world’s B747s have flown a total distance equivalent to 75,000 round trips from earth to the moon!
Talking about the moon, what about space travel?
He is well aware of the plans of Sir Richard Branson and other transport entrepreneurs like Elon Musk to take passengers into space and bring them back.
Mr Lim would not be the only one to question whether space travel can become within the reach of enough people to make it viable, but he does agree that aviation has made great strides since the early island-hopping days and nights of international air travel in flying boats from the 1930s to the 1950s, which were definitely reserved for the very rich.
Maybe one day in the future – thanks to the pioneering work Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and XCOR, along with their NASA predecessors – space flight will be safe and value for money. But Mr Lim thinks that is a long way ahead.
What is more realistic and more achievable is a return to super-sonic travel. He predicted its return when he spoke to the MBA students in 2005 :
Looking further into the future, I am convinced that the supersonic airplane will make a comeback. With an ideal size of say 300 seats, the range capability to fly across the Pacific, quieter and more efficient engines and capable of flying at a speed of Mach 3, it should prove very popular with the businessmen. The second generation SST would allow businessmen to have face to face meetings without having to waste too much time travelling long distances and spending long periods away from their offices.
Some airports may specialize in handling the SST, some in handling the ultra long haul flights and become major aviation hubs. Some may even specialize in handling budget airlines. But what is certain is that airports that do not change, coupled with an aviation policy that are restrictive, will degenerate into insignificant airports catering to perhaps just domestic flights and a few international flights, instead of becoming important international aviation hubs.
It wasn’t just the Concorde disaster on take-off at Charles de Gaule Airport, Paris in 2000 that put an end to supersonic passenger flights. The Concorde was uneconomic – it could not a carry enough passengers to make it pay – and it was so noisy that even countries like Malaysia banned it from flying over its airspace.
For the future – predicts Mr Lim – there will be supersonic passenger aircraft and they will be as quiet today’s passenger jets. They will have to be designed to carry at least 300 passengers a flight and they will offer the fastest and most convenient way to travel long distance for those who can afford to pay a premium.
But before supersonic aircraft make their return, Mr Lim thinks we will be able to experience what the people in Airbus survey wanted – more sustainable and eco-efficient aircraft. That is well on the way, with the design and manufacturer of aircraft. Along with the desire of the whole industry to reduce aviation’s impact on the environment and cut its emissions of greenhouse gases.
When you see how far commercial aviation has come in 100 years – as Tony Tyler the Director General and CEO of IATA told an aviation conference in Singapore in February 2014 – you can start to think where it might be in the next 100 years. To him, the way forward for aviation involved improving regulation, ensuring sustainability and expanding connectivity:
“Our goals are to achieve a 1.5% improvement in fuel efficiency annually by 2020; to cap net emissions with carbon neutral growth from 2020 and cut net emissions in half by 2050 as compared to 2005 levels. And we will achieve this through a combination of four elements: better technology, infrastructure, operations, and with a global mechanism for market based measures (MBM)”.
The same article went on to explain how a MBM scheme works and what is already happening on a voluntary basis, where according to IATA, at least 32 of its member airlines have introduced offset programmes, either integrated into their web-sales engines or to a third party offset provider.
Market Based Mechanisms are only one way airlines plan to make future flights cleaner, with less impact on the environment.
While Mr Lim is the first to admit that there were not the same “environmental impact” pressures on airlines during his 30-odd years in the business. But in fact what SIA was doing for very good economic reasons in the 1980s and 1990s by maintaining the most modern fleet in the world had added benefits. The newer aircraft were more energy efficient than the ones they replaced. Less polluting, more productive, cleaner and greener than what went before.
How do the big aircraft manufacturers see flying into the future? Airbus sees it this way.
In unveiling its 2050 vision for ‘Smarter Skies’, Airbus allows for more flights, fewer emissions and quicker passenger journey times. For the first time, its vision of sustainable aviation in the future looks beyond aircraft design to how the aircraft is operated both on the ground and in the air in order to meet the expected growth in air travel in a sustainable way.
Already today, if the Air Traffic Management (ATM) system and technology on board aircraft were optimised (assuming around 30 million flights per year), Airbus research suggests that every flight in the world could on average be around 13 minutes shorter. This would save around 9 million tonnes of excess fuel annually, which equates to over 28 million tonnes of avoidable CO2 emissions and a saving for passengers of over 500 million hours of excess flight time on board an aircraft.
The future, as Airbus see it, concentrates on operational achievements and the Smarter Skies vision, which consists of five concepts which could be implemented across all the stages of an aircraft’s operation to reduce waste in the system (waste in time, waste in fuel, reduction of CO2). Its five include: eco-climb, express skyways, free glide approaches and landings, ground operations and power.
While Airbus makes a strong commitment to operational gains in the battle to make sure aviation maintains blue skies into the future, Boeing is making the most of its achievements in aircraft design and production. And still holds out its Dreamliner aircraft as its best contribution to date to the future of cleaner and clearer skies.
It is not just aircraft design and performance – even when it’s better for the environment – that is so important to the passenger. As Mr Lim has noted, a determinant for the operation by airlines over long distances is how much “passengers can endure being cooped up in an aircraft”.
Mr Lim would applaud such improvements that mean greater comfort for passengers on board, but he also wonders about how to satisfy those who want an even quieter and cleaner ride. Maybe the Solar Impulse is the aircraft of the future.
It is the work of two men, both pioneers, innovators and pilots. The driving force behind Solar Impulse is Bertrand Piccard, doctor, psychiatrist, explorer and aeronaut. He made the first non-stop round-the-world balloon flight and is the project initiator and chairman. André Borschberg, an engineer and graduate in management science, a fighter pilot – a professional airplane and helicopter pilot – is the co-founder and CEO.
Together they are attempting to rewrite the next pages in aviation history with solar energy, and voyaging around the world without fuel or pollution. Their ambition is for the world of exploration and innovation to contribute to the cause of renewable energies, to demonstrate the importance of clean technologies for sustainable development; and to place dreams and emotions back at the heart of scientific adventure.
The Solar Impulse is not the first solar airplane ever designed, but it is certainly the most ambitious. None of its predecessors has ever managed to fly right through the night with a pilot on board.
The flying inventors admit they are “dealing here with a symbol, as solar airplanes are unlikely ever to carry 300 passengers, but it is a symbol that affects all of us. In fact, aren’t we all on Earth in the same situation as the Solar Impulse pilot?”
So is the future of flight a solar powered plane which can transverse the earth without using one litre of fuel, except for that freely provided by the sun?
Or does it mean going “back to the future” with quieter but powerful super-sonic passenger jets or maybe a “voyage in a ship” that takes us beyond earth to the edge of space?
There’s no doubt in Lim Chin Beng’s mind that people will want to fly in ever increasing numbers to even more places. The Airbus survey bears that out, just as it shows a desire for a more sustainable, less stressful air travel experience.
Flying in the future presents a dilemma and a challenge for those in the aviation industry responsible for producing the machines and making them fly. How to do that, bearing in mind not only the dreams and demands of people, but to do it for the planet and for profit?
There’s at least one man who has played his part – many parts in fact – in delivering flying pleasure to millions around the world.
For the man they still call “Mr SIA”, the letter “S” must figure prominently on the passport when flying into the future: Supersonic, safe, secure, sustainable, space, solar and silent.
But the capital S word which Lim Chin Beng counts on to continue to provide leadership in the future of aviation is none other than the place which has figured so prominently in the fly past over the first 100 years of commercial aviation ….Singapore.