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Aerospace Futures conference 2018
Presentation by Rob Walker, Executive Manager Stakeholder Engagement, 18 July 2018
Our mission: Is to promote a positive and collaborative safety culture through a fair, effective and efficient aviation safety regulatory system, supporting our aviation community.
What this means is we understand that we can only achieve the goal of safety by working with the aviation community. In this we have a priceless advantage – nobody and no organisation wants to have an accident, nobody is indifferent to their own safety. In that respect CASA and the aviation community are on the same page. The words fair, effective and efficient compel us to work with the aviation community. In theory you can make any activity perfectly safe by banning it or stopping it altogether, but knocking over the chess set and declaring ‘game over’ in this way is obviously not an option.
That is the context in which I head CASA’s Stakeholder Engagement Division. It has responsibility for CASA's relations with stakeholders, including the aviation industry, government, national and international agencies and the community. We are the central coordination point for CASA's strategic international engagement in policy, programs and with the International Civil Aviation Organization coordination.
The Stakeholder Engagement Division enhances CASA's relationships and consultation with industry and other stakeholders through the Aviation Safety Advisory Panel and its Technical Working Groups.
The point to emphasise here is its two-way communication: we talk to the aviation community about our concerns, plans and proposals, and are listening to what they tell us about what they think.
As the primary point of contact for members of the aviation community who need information or services from CASA, our Division provides services relating to pilot, air traffic control and aircraft maintenance engineer licensing, aviation medicine, organisational approvals and the civil aircraft register.
The Division is also responsible for all corporate communication, including media relations; staff and external communications; social media and web publishing. We develop and deliver CASA's safety promotion campaigns and publish our flagship safety publication Flight Safety Australia. We also provide targeted safety education to the wider Australian aviation industry.
And what an industry it is. CASA is also indirectly connected with more than 100,000 people who are involved in the Australian aviation industry. There were 60.65 million passengers carried, on 638,000 flights in the 12 months to April 2018, nearly three times the population of Australia.
But that may just be the beginning. For its history so far, aviation has been about spanning vast distances: its heroes are those who were the first to cross oceans and continents. Those trips are now routine, to the point where there are approximately one million people, travelling in safety high in the troposphere at any given moment, flying intercontinentally between far flung cities or over oceans.
But the future may have a local component that could potentially dwarf even this success story.
NASA ‘s associate administrator of aeronautics, Jaiwon Shin, oversees everything the agency does in aircraft development. He says urban air transport has the potential to change lifestyles as profoundly as international air travel did in the 20th century.
Thomas Frey of the Davinci Institute thinks that by 2030 there will 1 billion drones in use around the world by 2030, making them about as common as cars are now, although one forecast is for 2 billion cars by then. (Current Biology, 2016)
If that’s the case, you’ll need a drone to fly over them. Road congestion will be one of the driving forces behind aviation going local in its second century. Flight across the oceans is routine, and safe, the next challenge is flight across town.
Multiple companies from many countries are developing autonomous passenger drones or what tend to be called flying cars or ‘taxi drones’ based on multi-rotor aerial platforms. Most adopt a multi-rotor configuration with ‘engines’ or motors placed in various configurations that cancel out the need for the tail-rotor used by traditional helicopters. It’s a design used by many heavy lift drones currently in service.
Take that platform, scale up the size, add a passenger cell, and you have a flying taxi.
Singapore plans to have flying cabs in service by 2030 and Singapore’s Ministry of Transport has announced talks with tech companies will begin for trials for passenger carrying drones. Dubai has announced the ambition to have a quarter of all journeys made there by 2030 to be in autonomous aerial vehicles. Uber has advanced and detailed plans to transform from being a ride sharing company using private cars into a ride sharing company using autonomous electric aircraft.
Airbus, car maker Audi and design house Italdesign are collaborating on a modular concept that is both an autonomous electric car and urban aerial vehicle. Pop.Up consists of an electrically driven wheel set, a cabin module, and a rotor set that attaches to the top of the cabin. Pop.Up users could begin their journey on wheels, then summon the rotor set—in effect a large octocopter drone—to leave the wheels behind and complete the journey by air, or vice versa.
The pace of small short range electric development is so frantic and its scope so broad that I can illustrate the concept even if I restrict myself to just a few of this month’s launches.
One is Blackfly, developed over nine years by a Canadian company, called Opener, and backed by Google co-founder Larry page.
The one-person aircraft can travel up to 40km at a speed of 100km/h. In its release BlackFly says because it uses a redundant stability-controlled fly-by-wire system the operator (what we used to call a pilot) only has to operate a simple control stick and therefore BlackFly shouldn't require a pilot's license, though operators will require training. I wonder if Airbus will claim the same exemption?
Another effort is Surefly, a hybrid powered multicopter which uses a piston engine purely to generate electricity for its rotors. It will be making an appearance at Airventure in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, later this month.
None of these vehicles has much of a range, you could call them ultra-short range, but for what they are setting out to do the don’t need a long range. They are aviation reimagined.
You can spend many hours on YouTube watching these videos, and they leave you with a question. Is this footage history in the making? Is it the 21st century equivalent to the iconic photograph of Wilbur Wright trotting nervously next to his Flyer 1 as his brother Orville makes the world’s first powered, controlled heavier than air flight?
What’s striking is the way these truly experimental aircraft have the same flimsy, sometimes ungainly, but exciting character that was captured in those early photos of aviation.
I wonder if people looking at images of the Wright brothers, more than 100 years ago felt the same mixture of intrigue, excitement and scepticism? We know, with hindsight what happened next. From the those spidery, hopping, dangerous looking machines came the world changing phenomenon of aviation.
Is it déjà vu all over again?
Electric and hybrid propulsion is also being explored for fixed wing short range transport aircraft. Part of the impetus comes from the International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO, whose member states in in 2010 adopted the global aspirational goal to stabilize international civil aviation greenhouse gas emissions at their 2020 level. The improvements in fuel burn required by this require radical solutions.
Again, Boeing and Airbus are on the case, along with a host of other competitors, who perhaps hope to be more agile. Not all these projects will bear fruit, indeed not all these companies will survive, but again, that is a parallel with how aviation was 100 years ago.
Then there’s space. Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are extremely serious about commercial manned spaceflight. And Boeing and others are looking in earnest at hypersonic long-distance transport aircraft which are, in effect spaceships. I note here that UNSW’s own Professor Andrew Neely, is working and contributing to this exciting field.
So how do we regulate all of that?
CASA currently has jurisdiction over airspace from ground level to 100km altitude, where space is widely accepted to begin. But traditionally, we haven’t needed to or given much thought to the upper 80km because controlled airspace stops at 60,000 feet. Most commercial aircraft aren’t operating above Flight Level 460. (FL460). Airspace above this is Class G airspace, the term for airspace that’s not-otherwise categorised.
The development of commercial space launches means this is about to change and even before the establishment of the Australian Space Agency on 1 July we were talking with the Department of industry, innovation and science about how we would share the administration of this airspace.
Back down to earth, literally, is the zone from ground level up to 500 feet AGL, where most drones operate. If you live in southern Canberra, you have the opportunity to be at the forefront of aviation and home delivery simultaneously. Google’s Project wing has been working closely with CASA running a trial, testing the delivery of food and small packages including burritos and medicines by drone. As a recent CASA internal newsletter said The burrito has landed. Will this be the way of the future? I don’t know any more than you do, but CASA knew when Google inquired about doing beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone trials that our remit was to do whatever was necessary to allow aviation to progress in safety. Google chose Australia because of our regulatory landscape and chose Canberra as the community were good early adopters of technology. CASA could have taken the option of saying ‘too hard, sorry.’ But we didn’t! CASA is open to embracing new technologies like these and in collaborating with companies who are exploring new opportunities.
We see our future as a regulator will, increasingly be as a regulator of the unmanned sector. Already there are already 1,337 remote operator certificate holders in Australia. They now outnumber the traditional AOC holders or Air Operator Certificate holders by about 500. And this is growing each week. The growth is immense. In comparison there are currently 15,519 registered aircraft in Australia and there are an estimated 150,000 drones.
Thinking about this future is, from a regulator’s point of view, a bit of a head spin. We will be dealing with new technologies, operating in high and low parts of airspace that had previously been quiet corners from an aviation point of view. At the same time, aviation, as it is currently structured will continue to grow. To put it simply the challenge is to safely manage the saying of ‘what goes up, must come down’. The challenge for CASA is to continue to manage the airspace for all airspace users…be it a traditional aircraft, a small drone operating close to the ground, a larger aircraft size drone or pilotless aircraft operating at the flight levels or a rocket or similar craft launching and revering through the traditional flight levels.
Combine this with our obligation as a regulator to listen to and understand the industry and the result is a demand – for people.
Future Aviation is and will continue to develop and attract new skills. Expertise in networked systems, robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), additive manufacturing and Virtual Reality (VR) will be as important as expertise in aerodynamics, structures and engines. And we’re going to need people with those skills if we are to regulate sensibly, and sensitively so as to foster Australia’s role in the revolutionary change that is coming to the world of aviation.
This is where you come on board. As you progress through your careers in this exciting and rewarding rejuvenated sector bear in mind that one way you can all contribute help shape the aerospace future is to join us and use what you have learned to keep that future growing and safe.
Thank you for listening.