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Global Aviation 2040: What the Explosion in Air Travel Means to You

Picture this: You hop on a four-passenger air taxi over the city to the airport where a supersonic aircraft is waiting to whisk you in a few hours across oceans and continents. 

Your ‘pilot’ might be in the cockpit—but might also be on the ground supervising the flight through data and information in the cloud.

During the flight faster than sound---and with only a muffled sonic boom that will allow the commercial supersonic to fly over land for the first time- you continue your connected life working, communicating, and enjoying entertainment.

Sound like far-away science fiction? Sure, but it’s becoming reality faster than you think, with those air taxis up above your head in only a few years and those supersonic aircraft probably ready to take flight by 2040.

What’s behind this radical transformation of air travel in only two decades?

The numbers tell the story. “By 2040, there will be three times as many passengers, twice as many commercial aircraft and literally thousands and thousands of individual vehicles” says André Cléroux, Avionic Functions Product Line Director at Thales.

Driving the accelerating demand is the ‘democratization’ of air travel worldwide, a combination of growing interest globally as well as a broader commercial offer globally. Regional air traffic growth drivers include the emergence of a large middle class in the Asia Pacific region, and low-cost travel options in Europe and North America in particular.

André Cléroux explains, “We have the technologies today to help respond in time to the real explosion in air traffic. We are working with both industry and government, on the aircraft as well as on the air traffic management, to make sure that air travel remains safe no matter how busy the traffic”.

Cléroux says that the changes underway will make global aviation unrecognizable to the passenger in only two decades.

“It’s not only the type of vehicle but also the entire passenger experience that will be different than today”, he explains” Passengers will have access to all the services they have on the ground at home or at work.”

Connectivity and Cybersecurity are understandably keys to providing passengers with a seamless work and entertainment experience on or off the flight---as well as generating new revenues to the airline industry by offering more such in-flight services.

One less visible but real contribution to the new world of Aviation 2040 is Artificial Intelligence. In fact, it is already in today’s cockpit and will become the principal way to assure safe and more efficient flight. So the role of a ‘pilot’ may become one of a ‘supervisor’ of the automated in-flight and communications systems.

One of the most welcome changes of this revolution will be more environmentally-friendly aircraft with electrical propulsion or hybrid propulsion. That will be made possible by new systems of electrical propulsion, through increased storage capacity and by design of the ‘flying wing’ ‘blended’ body.

Thales experience in Air Traffic Management is also contributing to more environmentally-friendly aircraft in other ways. 

André Cléroux explains, “Today, aircraft fly in corridors for safety. Tomorrow, automated air traffic control will make it possible for flights to take more direct paths, making them much more efficient and more respectful of the environment while, at the same time, providing for more flexibility to deal with weather or to manage or avoid congestion”.

He points to four technologies where Thales experience and expertise  are critical success factors for this radical transformation of air travel in record time. 

He concludes, “When you put together the four pillars of Connectivity, Cybersecurity, Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics, Thales is more than a player in the future of aviation; we are in fact one of its major architects”.

This article is part of a series published for the Farnborough International Airshow in England, 16-22nd July 2018.