Monday, 13 December 2010

Opportunity in the Air

I enjoyed reading the article last month on hybrid air vehicles in New Scientist magazine. It seems there is growing interest in hybrid electric aircraft or, in some cases, even pure electric aircraft. For budding entrepreneurs this area presents some interesting opportunities. New Scientist cites the agility of electric car start up firms in the automotive industry, many of whom are better able to adapt to and use breakthrough power train technology and production systems. This has not really been the case in the aerospace industry partly, I think, because of how expensive and technically complex it can be to achieve EASA or FAA approval.

Now even Boeing and Airbus are dabbling with the idea of using a mix of turbine and electric power. It seems the biggest opportunity is in the small aircraft field though with Cesna planning to build an all-electric small aircraft. With the low cost of running an electric aircraft perhaps personal aviation will become more affordable?

Either way there are other companies doing impressive things in the field of aerospace innovation. One in particular is Hybrid Air Vehicles who have won a major military contract (I wont say more than they have on their website) and are busy proving that their ‘blimp’ is capable of transporting heavy loads long distances. The company has told me that costs are around 1/7 of traditional air transport. Could these ultimately replace traditional (water based) ships? I can’t imagine they can carry the huge loads so this is unlikely, but perhaps it will be a revolution in the mid sized transportation of goods.
When coupled with the rapid improvements in unmanned aerial technology (again driven by start-ups and small companies) there is some amazing scope for large pilotless air ships transporting goods over land and sea. I will be talking to a few of these start-ups over the coming months to see what they think about this combination of technologies and will report back.

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