The Future of Flying: New technologies, new mindset

The future has arrived: panel discussion at the Berlin Aviation Summit I Foto: Timm Bourry
The future has arrived: panel discussion at the Berlin Aviation Summit I Foto: Timm Bourry
At the eve of ILA, the first ever Berlin Aviation Summit brought together global thought leaders to chart the way towards the future of aviation.

Who will shape the future of aviation? What will the aircraft of the future look like? And how can we achieve zero-emission flight? The first ever Berlin Aviation Summit, organised by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the German Aerospace Industries Association (BDLI), brought together leading figures from industry, government and research institutions, including Airbus CEO Tom Enders, EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky and Fang Liu, Secretary General of ICAO.

Capturing a key theme of the discussion, BDLI-President Dr. Klaus Richter identified a virtuous circle: growth provides economic incentives to reduce weight and to improve the performance of aircraft. This leads to reductions in emissions and operating costs, resulting in cheaper tickets, which in turn leads to further incentives to improve the performance and to cut emissions.

While aviation is following a path to success, thought leaders see one central challenge: reconciling fast economic growth with climate change and the need to reduce emissions. The answer is technology. 

“Innovation will accelerate over the coming decades,” remarked Tom Enders, as technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, digitalisation, electrification and automation converge and reinforce each other.

Frank Anton, Excecutive Vice-President of eAircraft at Siemens agrees: “The third revolution of aviation is coming: after motorised flight in the 1900s and jet engine in the 1960s, hybrid-electric flight will arrive in the 2020s.”

However, to meet the central challenge to make aviation sustainable while meeting rising global demand for mobility and economic growth, industry and societies need both: new technologies and a new mindset. The aviation industry will not only have to rethink design and engineering but will also have to consider what passengers might accept. For instance, will they accept flights with one or even no pilot?

André Borschberg, Co-Founder & Executive Chairman of Solar Impulse, stated that we have to unlearn first before we can develop a new way of thinking about the challenges ahead, such as the accelerated introduction of ground breaking technology. He dreamt of becoming an aviation pioneer since age 15. His dream led to the circumnavigation of the world thanks to the sun and electric flight. „I believe aviation can be step by step electric.“

Above all, it is important that new technologies are integrated safely and securely in our existing air transport system, emphasized Fang Liu, Secretary General of the International Civil Aviation Organization ICAO. Despite differences in opinion, the relentless striving for safety is what brings together the global aviation community. Hence, global cooperation, networks and new partnerships are required to ensure a sustainable and secure transition towards revolutionary technology.

Rolf Henke, DLR Executive Board Member, stressed the fascination of aviation and predicted exciting times for the next generation in view of increasingly autonomous and low-emission flights.

When Tom Enders was asked what he was most proud after having announced his retirement as CEO of Europe’s largest aerospace company, his answer was the Airbus Foundation. It is a leading example of how aviation can do good in the world, and of how to carry the flame of passion to inspire the next generation.