Technology has been advancing throughout the first two decades of the 21st Century, but the 2020s will be the decade that will see these advancements come into fruition. Robotics, drones, air taxis and virtual / augmented reality are just some of the technologies that will be utilised. As the first year in the 2020s has produced a pandemic that has economically crushed the aviation industry, the time is now to rethink the structure of the aviation industry and how it can survive to be more economically viable for future generations. Investors in the aviation industry will be looking for new ways to ensure their investments will achieve positive growth in their finances.
I have previously written about what I call a Super Massive Drone Skyway (SMDS) reaching all parts of the globe. A network that will combine a fleet of drone aircraft as large as jumbo jets with medium and smaller size drones to deliver large payloads of cargo. This network will be moving all international trade from factory to your doorstep. Air traffic has had a significant reduction with the pandemic, for the most part, only cargo traffic is currently being operated. International Civil Aviation Authorities, local authorities, legislators, aviation manufactures, and logistic companies must use this time to streamline a more cost-effective means of transporting goods around the world. A system that will advance the most sophisticated drone network, allowing for savings in cost, time and efficiency.
These drones, Unmanned Cargo Aircraft (UCA), will revolutionise how cargo will be transported around the world. These UCAs will continue this process around the clock 365 days a year. Currently, air cargo is limited to fly to a location and then return back to where it started where the pilots are based. There are also flight time regulations that only allow for the pilot to fly a certain number of hours, whereas the drones can operate by using a combination of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and human pilots operating from control rooms, creating the network of cargo drones. This human factor will most likely be required by governments and legislators around the world, as there will need to be a human system in place to take over control in case the drone technology malfunctions, or the drones are hijacked. This will create a new breed of pilot, which would be similar to a current air traffic controller, but with the skillset and qualifications of a pilot. When the drone pilot is finished for the day, another drone pilot will step into their seat. This rotation can offer 24 hour 7 days a week timeless service, allowing each aircraft to work without much down time. The aircraft will also not have the restriction of one permanent base, allowing them to fly where they are immediately required to deliver or pick up the cargo. This would allow for a much more efficient logistics system. This will also create an attractive market for investors.
Currently Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) companies are using robotics to inspect the exterior of the aircraft for damage created by birds, lightning strike and ice. This more efficient way of inspection speeds up the process to get the aircraft back in the air, thus maximising the financial investment. However, as technology advances, robotics can play a more substantial role in the overall maintenance of the aircraft. This alongside the AR / VR tools used by the human engineers will create a more stable financial model for investors to look for higher returns within the industry.
Many aviation market leaders are developing AR / VR technology practices for the maintenance and production of aircraft, with the ability to cut production or service time with current averages of 25% by means of wearable AR glasses. Aviation companies have in the past had to use large sized manuals to help engineers map out all tasks of each type of aircraft, engineers would have to continuously stop and revert to the manuals, which led the advancement of AR / VR technologies. This technology can reduce the number of hours required to service and build aircraft, as engineers will not have to stop and look constantly to check diagrams and schematics on a computer screen or to check and double check the correct configuration was being applied.
Now with this new technology in the AR glasses, engineers can use a viewfinder built into the glasses with the diagrams and schematics visible in the viewfinder and are commanded by voice, allowing the engineer to focus on the task without looking away. There is also a tracking interface and a search function giving step-by-step schematic for every task needed for the aircraft. If there is a major issue, engineers are able to utilise remote experts that are able to view what the engineer sees through the video camera on the glasses. The remote expert is also able to give voice instruction and walk the engineer through any task. Using the AR glasses, the error levels can be reduced to almost zero and the production and service time reduced by at least 25%. There is also a large reduction in overall costs, as the more expensive expert engineers will not need to travel from site to site, allowing them to be in a single base but share their expertise across many different locations to junior engineers.
All of these new technologies are in their infantile stage, but once it has matured and the engineering industry understands the full capacity of the AR / VR and smart integration tools and robotic functions, the industry will be able to produce and maintain all current and future aircraft at a fraction of both cost and time. There will also be the influx of other established aviation organisations and new organisations that will explore this new technology, which will in turn develop new tools, methodologies and time saving practices that will help the industry find better economic efficiency. The time is now, the beginning of the 2020s, for the industry to reshape and make aircraft engineering more financially attractive to investors.