Tomorrow's aviation is coming to town
Italy-headquartered Leonardo is set to define the future of aviation at the Dubai Airshow
As this week's Dubai Airshow draws thousands of visitors from all over the world and with Expo 2020 getting closer, people everywhere are dreaming about aviation and considering the future. What could the skies over Dubai look like in the years and decades to come?
Leonardo, the Italy-headquartered security, defence and aerospace giant, will reveal its ideas about the future at the Airshow, where the company ranks amongst the largest international exhibitors and biggest spenders on airborne research and development.
"Every day a futuristic new service, such as postal drones or flying taxis, hits the news and we're following these developments with great interest as they represent a potentially huge future market for us," says Laurent Sissmann, SVP - Unmanned Systems at Leonardo.
"Leonardo is looking at the big picture, where interconnected issues such as flight regulation, air traffic control, drone technology and aircraft certification all need to be addressed at a systems level. Because we've got expertise across all of these domains, we're able to turn exciting and potentially impractical ideas into actual innovative and meaningful products and services for society."
The scope for such services is vast. A report estimates the potential for 80,000 passengers to take to the skies every day, generating an annual market worth $2.5 billion. But there are issues of consumer confidence that need to be addressed before these markets can really take off.
"A scenario where taxis and drones fly over our heads in dense urban environments, delivering packages and passengers, are still considered "futuristic" by most people," says Sissmann. "In reality, technology is progressing quickly, and at Leonardo, we're already making significant advances designing and testing the technologies of the future in domains, including Urban Air Mobility, Urban Air Logistics and Unmanned Traffic Management."
Urban Air Mobility is the name for the business sector, which sees electric-powered aircraft take off and land vertically (eVTOL), allowing passengers to beat the traffic by making short journeys in airborne taxis.
"We have a strong DNA in people's mobility and we are the first to develop the world's first eVTOL concept, Project Zero, almost 10 years ago. Our AW609 is the first and only civil tiltrotor, a new type of aircraft that combines the vertical lift-off/landing capabilities of a helicopter with the speed and comfort of a traditional aircraft."
"The benefits of this technology are evident for long-distance inter-urban commuting, but we're also seeing potential for its use in other roles, such as emergency medical services, for instance. With this heritage and its innovation capability, Leonardo is naturally fitted for Urban Air Mobility. The real challenge for us will be to position ourselves successfully in a completely new market that shares the characteristics of both automotive and aeronautic sectors," he said.
Another hot area of discussion is unmanned aircraft, more commonly known as 'drones'. "We are already investing in solutions to integrate and manage drone navigation and traffic in the civil airspace below 150m," says Sissmann.
"We founded D-Flight, a JV with Italian air navigation service provider, ENAV, to enable this integration and the drone-based service economy to take off. The most important point here is to ensure the highest levels of safety."
But, as with all technologies, not everyone wants to use them for good. There have been multiple high-profile incidents recently where drone aircraft have been used to threaten safety and cause damage.
Buying a drone on the Internet is easy and inexpensive, and criminals and terrorists have already used them to disrupt major airports and attack sensitive facilities. Because Leonardo is an expert in drone technology, they are also perfectly placed to combat this technology should it fall into the wrong hands.
"Counter drone - that is sensors and technologies that protect critical infrastructure from potential drone raids - is a growing field of research. Leonardo has already provided counter-drone technology to the UK Royal Air Force, which used it to resolve drone-related emergencies at London Gatwick and Heathrow airports, and in Italy it is providing this capability to the Army and the Air Force," says Sissmann.
"As the threat increases, military and civil operators in the Middle East are seeing a great deal of value in this technology and we're seeing significant growth in that market."
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