It took the Wright Brothers seven years to conquer flight. The aviation pioneers Wilbur and Orville began working on their aeroplane in Ohio in the late 19th century and by 1903 they were up in the air. 1914 saw the first commercial flight, the sound barrier was broken in 1947 and the world was circumnavigated for the first time in the mid-1980s, Since then small steps forward have continued to be made – but the next requires a huge leap.
More flights currently take place than ever before. Last year, FlightRadar24 tracked more than 200,000 in a single day, with total air passengers rising to 4.3 billion throughout 2018. Although this rate of growth is indicative of a booming sector, there are pressing concerns – namely the pressure to reduce carbon emissions and seek alternative fuels – which create a challenge for the industry heavyweights.
As a result, efforts are now being channelled overwhelmingly into electric aviation. This represents the next step in aviation innovation – the third revolution of aerospace according to Airbus boss Tom Enders – and was a huge topic of interest at this year’s Paris Air Show. A nine-seater, all-electric aircraft from Israeli firm Eviation gained particular media attention at the show and although it is still in its prototype form, it’s the closest thing we currently have to true commercially-available electric propulsion in the industry.
In 2017, Easyjet put their weight behind the move to electric flight and planned to be using the technology to transport passengers on short-haul routes within the next decade or two. Although the change is by no means rapid, legacy businesses are keen to stave off start-ups and lead disruption in their field so as not to repeat the trends seen in other industries, such as finance and automotive whereby challenger brands have steamed ahead of their old-school competition. Google has already shown clear intent to disrupt the travel industry with Google Flights; it’s almost certain that the tech giants will look to broaden their scope in this area.
This has led to a number of mergers and acquisitions taking place, namely Rolls Royce entering an agreement to take charge of Siemens’ activities in the electrification of air travel, a takeover which is set to be complete by the end of this year. But beyond that, there will be further challenges to tackle in the area of talent acquisition. As many other industries have done over the past few months and years, aviation now finds itself asking how it can attract experienced individuals to work with technologies that don’t yet exist, in newly defined roles.
Electric aviation is very much an industry in its infancy; to mature it requires bringing in the right talent with the right transferable skills. Not only will it require engineers with different skillsets, a business will also have to consider the suitability of its leadership positions as their goals evolve and adapt. Finding the right talent and then onboarding them as seamlessly as possible will be crucial to ensuring that legacy brands continue to be trailblazers in this space.
With most of the world now operating under the Paris Agreement of 2015, whereby 197 countries agreed to a movement that would ensure radical action was taken against climate change, electric aviation will become an increasingly important topic in the coming years. International aviation emissions are, by next year, set to be up 70 per cent on 2005. Transformation within the aerospace and aviation sectors has the opportunity to make a real difference in tackling climate change – it’s important that the current efforts of legacy brands and challengers alike are continued, and furthered, in the right way for years to come.
This is the second in a series of articles based on trends observed at the Paris Air Show. You can view the first, which explores how aerospace businesses expanding across the Atlantic, here.