European transport commissioner Siim Kallas recently presented Flightpath 2050, a report prepared by a group of high-ranking air transport executives in the European Union that sets research priorities and ambitious industry goals for 2050. In their foreword, Kallas and research commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn endorsed the report’s conclusions and therefore seemed to put more emphasis on economic performance and passenger experience than environmental issues. Yet, many have characterized Flightpath 2050 as a successor to the vision for 2020 set in 2001 by the Advisory council for aeronautics research in Europe (Acare).
Based on 2009 figures, aeronautics supports about 500,000 jobs in the EU. Revenues total more than €100 billion ($140 billion). Industry leaders expect those numbers to grow in proportion to aviation’s predicted expansion. The “high-level group on aviation research,” created in December last year and including personalities from Airbus, Rolls-Royce, KLM, Munich Airport, Shell and Thales, among others, foresees global traffic reaching 16 billion passengers in 2050, compared with 2.5 billion this year.
During his speech, Kallas insisted on competitiveness. In 2050, “the whole European aviation industry has a share of more than 40 percent of its global market,” the report states.
In 2050, according to the authors’ vision, 90 percent of travelers within Europe complete their journey, door-to-door, within four hours. Flights arrive within one minute of the scheduled time, regardless of weather conditions. The transport system proves “resilient against disruptive events.”
The report envisions fewer than one accident per ten million commercial flights in the European air transport system, compared with about three today.
Meanwhile, in 2050, “the effect of aviation on the atmosphere is fully understood.” Relative to an aircraft built in 2000, CO2 emissions diminish by 75 percent per passenger-mile, and NOx emissions drop by 90 percent. Noise gets cut by 65 percent. Moreover, aircraft produce no emissions during taxi. As a result, “the society in 2050 considers that travel by air is environmentally friendly,” the high-level group hopes.
Currently, the aeronautics industry invests about 7 percent of total revenues in civil research and development. The group did not set an R&D spending goal for 2050, although it did project that certification costs would be cut in half.