Distributed Aviation Concepts and Technologies 2008-01-2268
Aviation has experienced one hundred years of evolution, resulting in the current air transportation system dominated by commercial airliners in a hub and spoke infrastructure. While the first fifty years involved disruptive technologies that required frequent vehicle adaptation, the second fifty years produced a stable evolutionary optimization of decreasing costs with increasing safety. This optimization has resulted in traits favoring a centralized service model with high vehicle productivity and cost efficiency. However, it may also have resulted in a system that is not sufficiently robust to withstand significant system disturbances. Aviation is currently facing rapid change from issues such as environmental damage, terrorism threat, congestion and capacity limitations, and cost of energy. Currently, these issues are leading to a loss of service for the weaker spoke markets. These catalysts and the lack of robustness could result in a loss of service for much larger portions of the aviation market. The impact of other competing transportation services may be equally important as casual factors of change. Highway system forecasts indicate a dramatic slow down as congestion reaches a point of non-linearly increasing delay. In the next twenty-five years, there is the potential for aviation to transform itself into a more robust, scalable, adaptive, secure, safe, affordable, convenient, efficient and environmentally friendly system. In order to achieve these new characteristics, the new system will likely be based on a distributed model that enables on-demand services. Short range travel is already demonstrating itself to be inefficient with a centralized model, providing opportunities for the first wave of emergent distributed services through air-taxi models. Technologies from the on-demand revolution in computers and communications are now available as major drivers for the aviation on-demand adaptation. Other technologies such as electric propulsion are currently transforming the automobile industry, and will also significantly alter the functionality of future distributed aviation concepts. Many hurdles exist, including technology, regulation, and perception. There is an inherent governmental role in aviation that was not present in other recent on-demand transformations, which may pose the greatest risk of curtailing this ‘democratization’ of aviation.