Disruptive aviation technologies were very much in the news in the past few days, as they have been for much of the past two years. Whether by coincidence or spurred on by the pandemic-induced slowdown in the industry and focus on reducing the industry’s carbon footprint, the 2020s promise to be a decade of dramatic change in the way we fly. Scarcely since the 1960s have there been so many potentially breakthrough innovations on the launch pad.
Alternative propulsion is one of them. This week Dutch start-up Venturi Aviation pledged to have its 44-seat, all-electric regional aircraft in service by 2030. The Echelon is one of several such concepts on the drawing board. Venturi says it will have a range of 300mn and maximum take-off weight of 45 tonnes. That is almost two and a half times that of an ATR 42-600. However, once a likely tax on CO2 emissions is factored in, the Echelon becomes comparatively cheaper to operate, claims Venturi.
Amphibious aircraft are not a new technology, but, other than a few light floatplanes, passenger aircraft that take off from and land on water have not been around since the 1930s. However, Hawaiian Airlines is investing in all-electric seaglider developer Regent, viewing the company’s 100-seat Monarch project as a possible green solution for inter-island routes, to replace its ageing Boeing 717s. Regent, which is also developing the 12-seat Viceroy, is aiming for a 2008 service entry.
Hypersonic travel is further down the line, but Raytheon’s venture capital fund is backing Hermeus, a company that wants to develop jets that fly at five times the speed of sound for both passenger and military use. Hermeus has already conducted a ground demonstration of a hypersonic engine. Traveling at Mach 5 would, in theory, mean a trip from London to New York would take less than an hour. Raytheon views the technology as being “of critical importance to national security”.
However, would-be disruptors of the emerging urban air mobility sector had a reality check this week, when the US Federal Aviation Administration said it was reviewing and tightening its proposed rules for the certification of electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, particularly those around the training of pilots. However, developers shrugged off any threat to their business plans, saying that they were prepared to work with whatever regulations the authorities come up with.
Campbell Wilson might be about to take on one of the toughest jobs in the airline sector, running newly privatized, perennially loss-making and debt-laden Air India, now owned by Tata Group. Wilson made his name helming Singapore Airlines low-cost offshoot Scoot, but will move to New Delhi in June, where he faces the challenge of rebuilding Air India after Covid-19, and competition from domestic rivals in a market that has long been hailed as aviation’s biggest sleeping giant.
On the subject of ailing Asian flag-carriers, there was welcome news for Cathay Pacific as Hong Kong’s government committed to further easing travel curbs. Other than cargo flights, Cathay has been largely grounded for two years as a result of the territory’s strict approach to combating Covid-19. The recent lifting of bans on flights to the likes of the USA and UK should cut monthly cash burn, but Cathay is a long way from normality. Capacity in April was just 2% of pre-pandemic levels.
And from troubled airlines to headaches at what was the world’s biggest aircraft maker. Following the two-year grounding of the 737 Max in 2019 and the halting of 787 output because of technical problems, there appears no end to Boeing’s problems. Now the company has said it has stripped 55 777s from its backlog because it has doubts those orders will result in actual sales. It comes weeks after Boeing announced a further two-year delay, to 2025, for first delivery of its 777-9 flagship.
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