Small Air Transport
What is Small Air Transport and what are the challenges?
Small Air Transport (SAT) deals with small general aviation and commuter/feeder aircraft and their technology needs: ‘fixed wing’ aircraft with between 4 and 19 seats. SAT aircraft have the agility to take off and land in tiny regional or even remote utility airports, are frugal when it comes to fuel consumption, have fast turnaround times, and can be deployed on routes that would not be geographically or economically viable by rail or road nor by their larger brethren such as regional turboprops or jets. They can help ‘connect the dots’ and serve local communities and locations that would otherwise be isolated or confined to much slower road or rail transport; and in many areas of the world rail is not an option either as the infrastructure simply doesn’t exist.
To meet the Flightpath 2050 target whereby "90% of travellers within Europe are able to complete their journey, door-to-door within 4 hours", SAT aircraft plug a gap that many other travel paradigms struggle to fill. So, for many passengers and for many locales, SAT aircraft fit perfectly and meet a need that would otherwise go unserved.
You might even think of SAT aircraft as a low cost/short range version of corporate aviation, enabling point to point air travel on routes that are not served by the major hubs, using small, quiet, discreet aircraft.
The challenge Clean Sky 2 seeks to address is to reboot this somewhat neglected segment of the aeronautical manufacturing world. Europe was once host to a rich spectrum of small aircraft manufacturers, but much of that manufacturing infrastructure and science has evaporated. On the positive side, SAT's technology glass is still half full (in fact among the EU ‘New Member States’ there is strong capability in the SAT segment) - so it's a case of topping up the glass from TRL 3 to a 6.
Clean Sky 2's intention is to reinvigorate a range of SAT technologies that have stagnated at TRL3 or 4 and advance them through further research and experimental demonstration.
The aircraft and systems manufacturers already on-board within Clean Sky 2 propose to develop, validate and integrate key technologies on dedicated ground demonstrators and flying aircraft demonstrators at an ITD level, thereby engaging with the wider supply chain and industry that supplies to this sector of aviation and even pulling in new capability from other sectors that can provide new impetus such as automotive and electronics.
The SAT Initiative proposed in Clean Sky 2 represents the R&T interests of European manufacturers of small aircraft used for passenger transport and for small cargo transport aircraft belonging to EASA´s CS-23 regulatory base. (EASA is the European Aviation Safety Agency).
Clean Sky 2's SAT IATD Programme includes more than 40 industrial companies, many of which are small to medium sized enterprises, accompanied by dozens of research centres and universities. The community covers the full supply chain, including aircraft integrators, engine and systems manufacturers and research organisations.
The approach builds on accomplished or running FP6/FP7 projects, focusing on four key areas of societal benefit:
- Multimodality and passenger choice
- Safer and more efficient small aircraft operations
- Lower environmental impact (noise, fuel, energy)
- Revitalisation of the European small aircraft industry
To date, most key technologies for small aircraft have reached an intermediate level of maturity (TRL3-4). They need further research and experimental demonstration to reach a maturity level of TRL5 or TRL6.
The aircraft and systems manufacturers involved in SAT propose to develop, validate and integrate key technologies on dedicated ground demonstrators and flying aircraft demonstrators at an ITD level up to TRL6.
The activity will be performed within the Clean Sky 2 ITDs for Airframe, Engines and Systems, with strong co-ordinating and transversally integrating leadership from within a major WP in the Airframe ITD.
Tomorrow’s challenge, today’s call to action
Small Air Transport fulfils a market segment that cannot be filled by other types of aircraft, nor can it be addressed by other modes of transport. This provides route agility that is increasingly important in a fast-changing European landscape.
The actionable advantage is that there is unexploited manufacturing potential in Europe, especially focused around what used to be called the ‘New Member States’, that could be fortified with the right investment in new technologies. SAT aircraft could even be designed for single pilot operations to reduce operating costs, and on a different note, they solve the problem of "thin routes" where customer demand between two particular airports is modest and cannot fill larger aircraft.
With congestion in major airport hubs and excess capacity at underused regional airports, there is a surplus of capacity just waiting to be put to good use at regional airports – but not enough SATs to service that segment at a contemporary level of product quality, as many aircraft in service in this category are a bit dated. Encouragement and stimulation of the SATs class of air travel would help ease traffic at primary and secondary airports.