TIM ROBINSON and BILL READ report on some of the most exciting news and highlights of the third trade day, 21 June, of the Paris Air Show 2017.

This Paris Air Show 2017 coverage brought to you with the kind support of Gulf Aviation 

Boeing to test autonomous airliner tech

The Shape of Wings to come: Mike Sinnetts briefing also showed four future airliner concepts that Boeing is studying including from top left clockwise, BWB, hybrid, supersonic and an autonomous cargo aircraft. (Boeing)

Can you teach a robot that mystical quality that makes good pilots – airmanship? That is the question that Boeing is set to explore with a trial of airborne autonomy with its 2019 ecoDemonstrator programme. Giving what was a fascinating briefing, Mike Sinnett, VP Product Development, lifted the lid on what technologies Boeing is currently researching for airliners of the future. In particular, he noted that autonomous systems were becoming commonplace - self driving cars, UAVs, driverless trains. In parallel, he noted, aviation was facing unprecedented demand for pilots with 617,000 needed in the next 20 years. What happens, if supply can not keep up with demand or as Sinnett put it "How do we ensure that all the aircraft forecasted are crewed in the future?"

He pointed out that the challenge was not creating autonomous systems themselves, but in introducing them into a air transport system that is (unlike automobiles) unbelievably safe. The key challenge then is "how to make it autonomous with same level of safety as commercial aviation." said Sinnett.

But while autopilots had been around for almost as long as powered flight, getting a computer to operate an aircraft from gate to gate, while cope with unexpected and dynamic contingencies would require a step change in autonomy. Sinnett was skeptical that a computer could be programmed to take into account ever possible situation. Instead, machine learning would have to be used, with the AI learning. This itself would pose fresh challenges – especially in certification. However Sinnett pointed out that the FAA already certifies (or approves) "non-deterministic systems - human pilots".

To this end Boeing is exploring autonomy for civil aircraft with trials of autonomous ground taxiing, machine learning and Hhgh integrity systems.

These may make its way onto the 787 ecoDemonstrator testbed in 2019 , which will also test smart cabins.

Interestingly Sinnett revealed that the research may in fact find that a 'Zero Pilot' passenger airliner is impossible. However, he explains that useful lessons will be learned along the way, perhaps for autonomous freighter aircraft, or reduced crew for long-haul flights.

Sinnett also believes that "technology is more of a challenge than public acceptance" of pilotless airliners thanks to the sheer number of ways in which autonomous systems are now becoming commonplace. So when might we see an pilotless Boeing airliner? "I know two things, its not before 2040, and that I am wrong" joked Sinnett.

Turkish industry out in force

Mockup of TAIs T625 helicopter. 

As well as Japan and Brazil, another nation to showcase its growing aerospace industry at Le Bourget this year is Turkey – which had brought two examples of TAI's Hurkus A basic trainer – making its Paris debut in both the flying and static display. While the Hurkus flying in the flying display sported a yellow and black paint scheme, the one on static was configured as the Hurkus C COIN/light attack, with rocket pods, guided missiles and ventral sensor.

Next door meanwhile was TAI's Anka MALE UAV, which was also displayed with a rocket pod and free-fall mini-munitions.

Finally, TAI also used Le Bourget to unveil a mock-up of its new 12-seat T625 medium helicopter, which is scheduled to fly in 2018. Powered by two HTEC CTS800 engines, the T625 is initially aimed at the commercial and parapublic market – with potentially a follow-on military variant.

Support and services market to double in 20 years, says Airbus

User centric services powered by Skywise

With the world's airline fleet set to continue growing – support and services will become ever more important, predicted Airbus. It forecasts a projected market of $3.2trillion, the bulk ($1.85trillion) of that coming from MRO.

Yet while the image of aircraft mechanics might cause one to think of burly types with spanners, increasingly the MRO sector and services will be powered by software, as aviation and aerospace embraces big data, analytics and digital transform. Predictive maintenance, preventing unexpected AOG incidents is set to become more and more commonplace.

Indeed at this show, Airbus made a number of announcements. Earlier in the week it announced Skywise, an open aviation data platform that is powered by the Pentagon's favourite Silicon Valley data analytics company, Palantir Technologies. Skywise, says Airbus is intended to be the 'single platform of reference' that will allow airlines to improve efficiencies, reduce downtime, and boost their reliability.

So what does that mean in practice? One early adopter of Skywise is the UK's easyJet, which detailed how they had trialed some predictive maintenance tools. The first step was to centralise and bring separate databases together. The airline then made a Top 100 list of 'out of service' faults – and isolated individual failures to create the 'signature' of the technical fault – (for example a higher than normal oil temperature associated with an imminent integrated drive generator (IDG) failure.) By then using Airbus's Skywise platform this signature could be tracked and looked for across the fleet. EasyJet says that this has already proved its worth, predicting that 14 parts needed replacing and saving over 2,000 passengers from being delayed or inconvenienced. In addition, the airline says that half of its top 100 operational faults can be predicted in this way, opening up new levels of reliability and efficiency.

COIN on the very cheap

One platform where the HMD possibly costs more than the aircraft itself...

With everything from UAVs to modified cropdusters now packing a sensor ball and smart munitions, an observer at Paris might think that there are few surprises left in what platforms are now being turned into low-cost close air support or light attack platforms.

However, this concept, called APM-51 Cheelaar, perhaps stretches it further than ever. Described as a 'multi role aircraft for close air support' this budget attacker is based on the French APM41 Simba GA aircraft. It is armed with rocket pods and incredibly, according to the website a Thales Scorpion HMCS can be integrated with it – of the same type as used on A-10Cs and F-16s.

Bombardier wins SpiceJet commitment

SpiceJet will launch a higher-density version of the Q400 (Bombardier)

With an ATR 72-600 in Indigo colours at the show, Wednesday saw rival Bombardier win a Letter of Intent from another Indian airline, SpiceJet for up to 50 Q400 turboprop airliners. The deal includes 25 Q400s and purchase rights for another 25 to support SpiceJets regional expansion strategy. SpiceJet already operates 20 Q400s and with this new LoI will be the launch customer for a new higher-density 86-seat variant.

C295 wins order from Canadian lessor

Yes – you read that right (AirbusDS) 

In a first for Airbus Defence and Space's C295 medium tactical transport, Canadian lessor Stellwagen placed an order for 12 aircraft. The sale of the rugged transport to a commercial leasing company opens up new markets for the C295 in humanitarian operators, freight operators or parapublic roles such as SAR.

Order battle continues 

MAS signed up for the perfect ten MAX 10s

Boeing announced a new order of 15 737 MAX 10s from Latin America carrier Copa. Xiamen signed an MoU for 10 MAX 10s with another MoU for five MAX 7s and seven MAX 8s. A further 10 MAX 10s were ordered by Malaysian Airlines, with another 10 MAX 10s to go to Donghai Airlines. A single MAX was ordered by Mauritania Airlines. El Al finalised an order for two additional 787-8s and one 787-9. Boeing also announced that two 737 MAXs will be leased by AerCap to the Italian operator Neos.

Over at Airbus, Wizz Air signed a contract for 10 additional A321ceos. The Wednesday saw the first delivery of an A321neo to a European operator, which was handed over to Icelandic operator WOW Air.

Stratobus gains lift with ThalesAleniaSpace investment

The Stratobus could provide persistent communications or surveillance. (ThalesAleniaSpace)

French-Italian space and satellite company ThalesAleniaSpace has taken a minority stake in balloon specialist Airstar Aerospace as part of a plan to accelerate development of the Stratobus high altitude pseudo satellite (HAPS) airship. Scheduled to fly in late 2020, the autonomous Stratobus, by flying at a altitude of 20km, could provide 5G services or high-speed internet over specific areas with lower latency that satellites.

XTI Aircraft TriFan 600 gets pre-orders

XTI will bring a TriFan mock-up to NBAA this year, says CEO Robert LaBelle

Over at the Paris Air Lab part of the show, VTOL start-up XTI Aircraft revealed that it has already signed up three pre-orders for its revolutionary hybrid $6m TriFan 600 from a customer desperate to get the first one, and to help define some of the operational concepts. The company changed the powerplant to a hybrid-electric configuration, where a single 1,100shp engine drives three ducted fans. XTI is now working on a 60% scale UAV/optionally piloted demonstrator which is set to fly next year. In parallel XTI has begun construction of the full scale prototype with the goal of flying in two years. Chief Executive Officer Robert LaBelle, is no stranger to VTOL flight,having previously been the CEO of AgustaWestland North America.

Royal Aeronautical Society Paris Branch hosts reception

The reception was a chance to catch up with new and some familiar faces...

Wednesday morning also saw the local RAeS Paris Branch host a breakfast reception in the SIAE chalet, allowing for some quality networking between members, Fellows and supporters. Present at the function was RAeS President Sir Stephen Dalton as well as headquarters staff.

Airbus launches global A400M photo contest

The competition will launch at the Paris Air Show 2017 where the A400M will take part in the static display and will run until 24th November, with winners set to be announced in December. 

For more details and terms go to www.A400m-photocompetition.com to enter.

Follow the A400M Annual Photography Contest online with #InPlaneSight #A400M

And Finally…

Getting stuck in traffic is as much part of Le Bourget experience as the air display and chalets. Could this para-buggy be the answer?

Download your copy of June AEROSPACE

Sample a taste of RAeS Membership with a free PDF download of the June 2017 issue of AEROSPACE magazine here.

Stay ahead of all the news!

To follow all the news at Paris don’’t forget to bookmark www.aerosociety.com and follow the daily airshow news on the Insight blog. For those on Twitter, follow @AeroSociety and use the hashtag #PAS17. Editor-in-Chief Tim Robinson will be tweeting live from the show on @RAeSTimR 

News Team
22 June 2017