Volume 01 | Issue 04 | June 29, 2020
Computer Vision in Air Traffic Management | Hydrogen Jets by 2035 | Military Counter-UAS

Starting next week, we’re going to re-evaluate how to best deliver insights about Future of Aerospace trends through this newsletter.

We’ll be naming 8-10 of the biggest trends to watch and picking three each week to provide comprehensive updates on. You’ll be able to see right at the top of each issue which trends are highlighted that week, and each story will aim to connect all the latest ‘dots’ within that trend in a concise manner.

Look for that — next week. Hope you enjoy this issue.

— The Future of Aerospace Team
How Searidge Uses Artificial Intelligence to Revolutionize Airports, Air Traffic Management
Searidge Technologies' Aimee artificial intelligence and machine learning platform is unlocking new use cases for AI at airports and air traffic management systems. (Searidge Technologies)

Searidge Technologies
, an Ottawa-based provider of digital air traffic control tower and advanced airport solutions is providing using its artificial intelligence and machine learning platform Aimee to unlock new automated capabilities within air traffic management.

During last week’s 2020 Global Connected Aircraft Cabin Chats series, Marco Rueckert, head of innovation for Searidge, gave an update on the company’s existing AI deployments at several airports worldwide and a glimpse into how they’re looking to expand the use of the technology and the applications it supports in the future.

Aimee has four key functional areas: computer vision processing, natural language processing, flight data and surveillance data processing and analysis, and weather data processing. As an AI platform, airport stakeholders and air traffic controllers can use the deep learning featured in these areas to develop their own custom AI-powered applications.

Where and what Aimee is being used for at airports:
  • At London’s Heathrow International Airport, Aimee uses images captured from a network of high fidelity cameras that align the northern runway of aircraft landing in low visibility conditions. When controllers cannot use their own vision to clear the next aircraft for landing, Aimee can help prevent delays by alerting them that the next aircraft can safely begin the landing phase.

  • At Dubai International Airport, Aimee is comparing real time data and events associated with aircraft turnaround times, with historical data about those same events to predict and prevent delays.
In the future, Ruckert believes it could be used for aircraft to air traffic control communications as well.

Rueckert: “The space we’re really going into in the future is voice…Not necessarily so that you just have the autonomous aircraft talking to the autonomous ATC, maybe not in five years but at least to some point where we can do some error checking and say you told this aircraft to go to runway 1 and it’s actually taxiing the wrong way. Just putting another safety layer in there.”

Read more on Searidge technologies' integration of AI into ATC and airport operations.
2035 Emerges as European Target for Hydrogen Commercial Jet
Image from McKinsey report on hydrogen aviation, prepared for Clean Skies JU and FHC.

An aggressive timeline has emerged
for progress on lower-emission commercial jets, with European governments and Airbus pushing to field a hydrogen-powered commercial product by 2035.

And COVID-19, which has decimated the aerospace industry, may in time prove an accelerant to sustainable aviation, with governments attaching significant green strings to bailout packages.

France’s $17 billion bailout includes near-term requirements for its national airline — cutting CO2 emissions associated with domestic flights in half by 2024 — as well as an acceleration of existing plans to transition to sustainable fuel, with $1.7 billion in funding attached for development of a carbon-neutral airplane.

The government expects that airplane to hit the market between 2033 and 2035 — ten years earlier than previously expected.

After Airbus and Rolls-Royce cancelled flight tests of their joint E-Fan X hybrid demonstrator program in April, a blog post by Airbus CTO Grazia Vittadini hinted at a shift in company focus toward hydrogen for future sustainable efforts.

That interpretation was all but confirmed last week by Glenn Llewellyn, Airbus vice president for zero emissions technology, who joined a presentation hosted by hydrogen aviation startup ZeroAvia to give some context to the aerospace giant’s shift away from hybrid-electric and toward hydrogen.

From Llewellyn:
  • “What we saw [in the E-Fan X project] is that, yes, some of the individual technologies are really interesting, but as a combination in a serial hybrid-electric configuration, it was not giving us the disruptive levels of reduction that we need to make over the next years for aviation.”

  • Across four uses — fuel cells, combusted in gas turbines, a hybrid-electric gas-fuel cell combination, and hydrogen synthetic fuels — hydrogen could provide “up to 50 percent of the CO2 reduction we need,” and looks to be highly scalable.

  • “One of the really important factors in the transition to a new energy type like hydrogen is — how do we initiate it? How could we imagine the insertion and growth of hydrogen aviation across Europe without every airport being equipped with hydrogen?”
On that last point: Airbus is talking to airlines about what tradeoffs and operational models they’re willing to entertain. The company has modeled a hydrogen aviation system in Europe that could cover a “surprisingly large” percentage of current flights through a hub-and-spoke network, with hydrogen infrastructure only at the hub airports.

That would require hydrogen aircraft to be able to make both an out and return trip before refueling.

Hydrogen aviation startup ZeroAvia is also exploring a hub-and-spoke model with the government of California, centering on Sacramento and Los Angeles.

Last week at Cranfield Airport, ZeroAvia carried out its first successful test flight of a hydrogen-powered commercial airplane, a modified six-seat Piper Matrix. Funded in part through an Innovate UK government grant, the project intends to culminate in a 250-300 nm flight.

ZeroAvia intends to certify a 10-20 seat aircraft with 500 miles of range by 2023.

CEO and founder Val Miftakhov: “We think hydrogen is going to be the future of clean aviation. Other approaches are either less scalable or deliver just incremental improvements to large segments of aviation. And it can take multiple forms, but … we believe hydrogen-electric is going to become a larger portion of those solution as, from a fundamental perspective, the electrified powertrains have better economics on the maintenance side, and you can have better fuel efficiency [through fuel cells] compared to gas turbines.”

A report prepared by McKinsey for the European Clean Sky Joint Undertaking concluded that fuel cell propulsion could reduce the climate impact of aviation by 75 to 90 percent while increasing operational costs by “as little as US $5-10 per passenger.”

That report also cited 2035 as a target for introduction of a hydrogen-powered aircraft with 81-165 seats.

Read more on the push for a hydrogen-powered airliner by 2035.
U.S. Military Progresses on Counter-UAS; Homeland Security...Not So Much
The Marines' L-MADIS mobile cUAS system. (U.S. Marine Corps)

The Pentagon’s Joint Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office
, stood up in January and led by the Army, has selected eight capabilities to make up the U.S. military’s counter-drone portfolio.

The JCO assessed around 40 cUAS systems currently fielded across the services, consolidating to these eight in an effort to reduce redundancy and focus future investment on improving the “best of breed” systems.

Sponsoring service branches will continue to lead investment in their systems, but the Pentagon will aim to consolidate use of cUAS tools across the military toward these eight systems.

The eight chosen systems include:
  • Three fixed/semi-fixed comprehensive systems: Army’s FS-LIDS as primary, and Air Force’s NINJA and Navy’s CORIAN as secondaries. These systems all include a multitude of detect/defeat technologies.

  • One mounted/mobile: Marine Corps’ L-MADIS, which is two all-terrain vehicles, one a command unit and the other outfitted with sensors and signal-jamming equipment.

  • Three handheld/dismounted systems: FlexForce’s Drone-Buster and Smart-Shooter, by company of the same name, were chosen as commercial off-the-shelf systems, as well as Special Operations Command’s Bal Chatri.
This marks a degree of maturity in the Pentagon’s approach to cUAS, having completed testing and evaluation of close to 40 options and chosen what fits its needs.

Meanwhile, Department of Homeland Security’s test and evaluation efforts — and ability to provide cUAS guidance for the Coast Guard and Border Patrol — have been hampered by a lack of funding prioritization, according to a recent inspector-general report.

Despite nearly two-year-old legislation creating cUAS authorities, the report says the department only has limited counter-drone capabilities, blaming policy shortfalls within the department’s policy office due to a lack of funding for the necessary staff to develop a uniform approach to the counter-UAS effort.

More on DHS’ IG report
Thank you for reading the Future of Aerospace, brought to you by Avionics International. - Brian Garrett-Glaser (@bgarrettglaser on Twitter)
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