GUAS speaker Darrell Swanson of Swanson Aviation Consultancy talks to Katherine Simmons about how the economic theory of distributed aviation theories is set to disrupt passenger transport

“We are just about to enter the most interesting time in the aviation sector for the past 50 years,” according to aviation specialist Darrell Swanson.

Swanson, also an advisor to the UAM panel at ADS Group as well as a board member of the British Aviation Group, will be outlining what the future will look like for the sector at the first Global Air Summit at Farnborough on September 3-4. His interview with WeAreFinn took place while Swanson was standing under the wing of a prototype Concorde as he took a group of Scouts through the last hundred years of aviation history at the Fleet Air Arm Museum.

According to Swanson, the rising urban air market will herald a ‘paradigm shift’ within aviation and passenger transport with fixed wing aircraft such as Eviation’s Alice, Faradair’s BEHA and Ampaire leading the way. The distributed aviation system will offer lower cost sub-regional flights closer to passengers’ origins and destinations while, at the same time, helping to reduce the carbon impact of travel.

He explains: “Distributed Aviation is really concerned with changing the economics from hydrocarbon powered flight through to a next generation highly engineered aircraft powered by electric propulsion systems.

“Currently, to make the economics work for international airlines, you need to have large aircraft operating from large airports operating over long distances. Regional aircraft cover shorter distances but may not be operating as efficiently – the economics are very different for electric aviation.”

From eLCCs to eVTOLS

The future of distributed aviation will see a very different economic model for passenger transport. Electric low-cost sub regional airlines (eLCCs) will operate on lower demand routes enabled by lower capital, operating and maintenance cost of electric propulsion systems.

Sub-regional ‘domestic’ traffic will distribute away from the current hub and spoke system of airports (international and regional airports) to secondary and smaller airports with a minimum airfield length of 700m. With lower charges, available capacity and closer proximity to markets which are commercially viable but currently uneconomic for hydrocarbon powered airlines, eLCCs will be able to operate out of both secondary and general aviation airports.

While fixed wing electric aircraft will take passengers over longer distances, passengers will be able to complete their journeys using local transportation services or an eVTOL (flying taxi) which can land in urban environments due to their low noise footprint.

Challenges of legislation and public perception

Some of the biggest challenges for the new market will be around legislation and public perception, as opposed to technological and engineering issues, according to Swanson. Planning policies would especially be needed for the urban passenger market which would enable eVTOLs to operate within cities and allow passengers to get on and off vehicles as quickly as possible. He said: “Planning policies will need to be put in place for the infrastructure which are different from traditional air transport policies.”

“With respect to helicopters, many people perceive them to be up to 5 decibels louder than they actually are because they do not have any social benefit from their operations. With eVTOL being significantly quieter and with lower costs the social benefit to the wider public will be much higher. The challenge the electric aviation industry faces is communicating this fact to the wider public to help secure planning permissions for landing infrastructure.”

“With over 170 manufacturers vying to get their electric aircraft to market we need to make sure the infrastructure is there for when they arrive.”

Swanson is currently preparing a white paper on the subject which will be published by ADS in the very near future. He will also be speaking at the Vertical Flight Society in Washington DC next week, the Royal Aeronautical Society Tony Lucking Debate in October and the Future of Transportation conference in Vienna this December.

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