From urban mobility to faster global connectivity to space travel

David Whitely by David Whitely | Apr 15, 2019

There seems to be a constant revolution in the way we travel. Whether it be urban mobility with the advent of driverless cars, electric and hybrid vehicles, or new ride-sharing services and options, choice and innovation are ever-present.

The second session of the 29th ACI Asia-Pacific/World Annual General Assembly, Congress & Exhibition held in Hong Kong, China, 2 to 4 April, hosted by Hong Kong International Airport was devoted to developments in a new era of aircraft operations.

Moderator Andrew Charlton, Managing Director, Aviation Advocacy, led a discussion on major developments that are underway in the fields of commercial space transport, urban air mobility and drones. In addition, the long-heralded revival of supersonics may be on the verge of realization in the next decade.

Vincent Loubière, Director of City Integration and Infrastructure, Airbus Urban Air Mobility and Joe Wilding, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, Boom Supersonic joined David Gamper,Director, Safety, Technical and Legal Affairsfor ACI World on stage for the discussion which Andrew Charlton said crossed the gamut from urban mobility, to faster global connectivity to space travel.

Inter-modality is the key to Urban Air Mobility’

Loubière said that Airbus has been working with cities and airports on Urban Air Mobility, or UAM.

“Airports have been growing in their importance to the growth of cities and playing a big role in developing GDP and economic growth,” he said. “Our approach is to be the link between the air and the ground for cities and we work with cities to enable UAM and the starting point is connecting airport with city.”

He said that the industry needed to think about the physical and digital infrastructure needed to create a networked mobility system with full integration of all transport modes (ground and air).

“We want to develop economic dynamic and cohesive transport system and we try to design the solution with cities and airports,” he said. “Inter-modality is the key – you should be able to transfer between transport modes seamlessly.

“We want to introduce traffic management to integrate with existing systems with existing infrastructure becoming multi modal – a motorway can become multi-modal for instance and we are working with cities to explore this.

“Our range is regional – 30-35km – connecting airports to their cities in most cases.”

As regards the economic considerations, Loubière said fares would be comparable to today’s taxi fares, it really is not expensive, and that Airbus’s target is to be operational in the mid 2020s.

‘We think Supersonics are the future of aviation’

Joe Wilding from Boom was bullish about the prospects for supersonic aircraft returning to passenger service.

“We think Supersonics are the future of aviation,” he said. “There are no scientific barriers to supersonic flight – we can do this.”

Harking back to the days of Concorde, Wilding said that its problem was that it didn’t have ‘sustainable operating economics’. Technological advancements have brought supersonics back into focus as regards the viability of their operations.

“We are taking existing technology in aerodynamics, carbon fibre, and engines to develop Supersonic aircraft,” he said.

“We are eliminating the barriers and we are using the same impetus that fuelled the jet age back in the 1950s.

“In those days, they talked about making the world smaller but we don’t actually want to make the world smaller, we want to connect you to the world quicker.”

Wilding said that Boom’s model could support 500 city pairs with a daily service with indicative flight times between New York and London of 3.15 hours and Hong Kong to Sydney – including a technical stop – of five hours.

“We can make these competitive with today’s business class tickets,” he said. “We’re building this aircraft for today’s airports, this is the design goal for us.”

‘Space tourism could become a reality within five years’

Turning to the further development of commercial and civil space travel, David Gamper said that it had become a significant issue with space tourism potentially becoming a reality within five years.

“Companies like SpaceX have revitalized the US market share in global commercial launch systems, while Virgin Galactic has two models – space tourism and orbital – with Orbital ATK carrying out a wide variety of launches including low orbit satellites,” he said.

This will have an effect on conventional airspace with the current approach being to keep them separate and blocking them off from the rest of aviation, he said.

“There is a new approach, now: integration,” Gamper said.

“With growing space operations, there will be bigger impact on air traffic control and there are examples of airports being open to space port operations.

“They could coexist at less busy airports who might see it as a growth potential for business around the airport.”

Sustainability, emissions and climate change

While the developments in each of these areas are undoubtedly fascinating, Charlton cut to the central issue and asked the panel, “how can these operations be accommodated sustainably?”

As regards urban mobility, Loubière said that Airbus aims to deploy seamless and non intrusive technology with electrically-powered vehicles.

“Our work goes hand in hand with aviation and sustainability is our shared goal,” he said. “We are mindful of noise impacts and work with cities to limit these effect.”

As regards the more challenging issue of supersonic aircraft, Wilding said Boom recognizes the need to increase the fuel efficiency of the aircraft to reduce fuel burn.

“Most people will agree that air travel is a good thing but imagine if people in the 1950’s had resisted the jet age?” he said.

“We need to make jets more and more efficient as possible, so we think what we are working on is the next step in that evolution as regards supersonic aircraft.

“We will have flight-plans for each airport and each geographical location that we operate in to avoid noise sensitive areas.”

David Gamper said there was no getting around the fact that rocket launches are energy-heavy, dense operation.

“There may be new fuels coming to address that issue.”

David Whitely

David Whitely

Senior Director, FTI Consulting
David Whitely is a ACI World Business Partner with more than 25 years’ experience in journalism, corporate, media, and public relations in the UK, Canada and Australia. He has held in roles with HSBC, and with the governments of the UK and Western Australia. In aviation, David has served in the senior leadership teams of London Gatwick Airport and ACI World. He is currently a Senior Director with FTI Consulting based in the Asia-Pacific region and supports clients on strategic communications matters including ESG, crisis and reputation management, and change communication.
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