O site FlightGlobal, especializado em noticias e análises sobre aviação, divulgou uma análise sobre as oportunidades e desafios para a aviação civil em 2018. Abordando perspectivas sobre as fabricantes, companhias aéreas, aeronaves, segurança na aviação, motores e novas técnologias.

AIRBUS: CSeries challenge looms

For 2018, Airbus faces a significant, and very much strategic, challenge: to integrate Bombardier's CSeries programme into its line-up. Airbus intends the 110-160-seat CSeries range to complement its larger A320 single-aisle family, following its surprise move in October 2017 to acquire the programme.

That October surprise will see Airbus hold the controlling 50.01% share of a joint venture with Bombardier and the government of Quebec. With Airbus marketing power behind the CSeries, the deal – expected to close in the second half of 2018 – could well give the programme a badly needed sales boost.

But it will require of Airbus some marketing sleight of hand, not to mention some industrial realignment, as it has spent years denigrating the CSeries.

Indeed, Airbus has insisted that the A319neo, the smallest of its re-engined A320neo family, would all but eliminate the business case for the CSeries. In practice, the larger A321neo proved hugely popular and the A319neo sold poorly – meaning the aircraft was pushed down the Airbus priorities list, turning a planned mid-2016 service entry into 2018 certification.

So, Airbus will now have to put faith in its forecasts that a 120-seat market exists – and start persuading customers of CSeries merits.

Airbus has more than marketing strategy on its plate, of course. Its crucial transition to A320neo production has been hampered by technical snags affecting engine supply, delaying deliveries and holding up the effort to switch to all-A320neo output. The airframer had originally aimed for a full transition to A320neo production in 2018. But this timeframe remains uncertain given that, at the end of November 2017, Airbus still had 427 conventional A320s in its backlog and re-engined variants were accounting for just 30% of deliveries.

Production difficulties with the A320neo are, however, showing evidence of easing and the encouraging ramp-up of the A350 widebody will give the airframer cause for optimism after two demanding years.

Politics, though, looks like it will define 2018 for the CSeries. Several years of CSeries industrial, commercial and financial turmoil turned into an international incident in April 2017, when Boeing filed a petition against Bombardier with the US Department of Commerce, arguing that Bombardier took more than $4 billion in government assistance – and then dumped CS100s at artificially low prices with a sale to Delta Air Lines in 2016.

Boeing vice-chairman Ray Conner went as far as to tell US officials in May 2017 that the sale threatened the "commercial viability of the Max 7", the smallest of Boeing’s re-engined 737 variants.

Bombardier fiercely denies the accusations, saying it complies with trade rules and arguing that Boeing suffered no harm because it offers no competing product. Delta rallied to Bombardier, writing in regulatory filings that Boeing offered no aircraft in the same size category other than second-hand Embraer 190s.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and UK prime minister Theresa May railed against the ruling, and Trudeau even threatened not to purchase Boeing F/A-18 fighter jets.

Still, the department has slapped preliminary 299% import taxes on CSeries – a burden that, if implemented, would effectively shut Bombardier out of the US market. The tariff question should be settled as soon as 1 February, when the United States International Trade Commission is scheduled to decide if Bombardier's CSeries sale actually hurt Boeing. If the commission finds no harm to Boeing, the tariffs disappear.

But regardless, Airbus has a challenge it has not known for many years now: to sustain sales without the considerable influence of chief operating officer for customers – that is, head salesman – John Leahy. Leahy is set to step down and retire in 2018 and Airbus will want to ensure that the handover to successor Eric Schulz is seamless as far as any effect on its business is concerned.

BOEING: NMA decision time

One thing is certain about the New Mid-Market Airplane (NMA): if Boeing decides to launch its first clean-sheet aircraft development since the 787 in 2003, chief executive Dennis Muilenburg stated consistently throughout 2017 that the new aircraft would enter service in 2024 or 2025.

That means the launch decision probably comes in 2018 or early 2019, assuming a minimum, five-year development and testing phase.

Boeing has tried to usher new products into service even faster than five years during the modern era, but with mixed results. The original 777 entered service on time in June 1995 about four and a half years after the launch announcement in October 1990. But the 787 entered service seven years and five months after launch – three years and four months longer than Boeing planned.

Before the launch decision comes, Boeing has to make other judgements about the aircraft. It is possible Boeing will wait to select an engine supplier – or suppliers – after the launch announcement, but that strategically important selection usually comes before a customer decides to place an order.

The familiar three players are already jockeying for the coveted NMA selection. CFM International is determined to maintain joint venture member GE Aviation's nearly exclusive grip on Boeing aircraft since the 777-300ER. Rolls-Royce wants to extend its foothold in Boeing widebodies beyond the 787 by offering the Advance2 geared fan. Finally, Pratt & Whitney hopes to return to the widebody market with a second generation of its narrowbody-class geared turbofan.

In such a competition, the stakes involve winning not just market share but critically strategic position. Boeing has forecast a market for 4,000-5,000 aircraft in the NMA sector. But the larger prize for the NMA winner comes a few years after the light widebody is introduced, when Boeing starts working on the successor to the 737 Max.

The shape of the NMA supply chain also must be decided. Boeing is clearly shifting away from the flagrant outsourcing and risk-sharing that characterised the 787. The supplier selections for the 777X revealed a tilt inward, as the airframer decided to assemble the composite wing itself.

The NMA will offer a test of how far Boeing wants to push a new internal policy that favours keeping more work in house. A key choice in 2018 will be how much of the NMA's avionics should be delegated, now that Boeing has stood up a new business unit charged with challenging the likes of Rockwell Collins and Honeywell.

Few details about ideas for the NMA are known. It will be a family of aircraft, not a single model. Typical seating capacity will range between 200 and 270. The range will be set for a maximum of about 5,000nm (9,260km). It will extensively use carbonfibre-based material instead of metal, including a "fifth-generation" Boeing composite wing. Boeing has also hinted vaguely of a "hybrid" fuselage cross-section, suggesting a 767-style, wide passenger cabin and a 737-style, narrow cargo hold.

The goal is to place the NMA family between the top end of the 737 Max capacity and range and the low end of the 787 capacity and range, while not stealing orders from either model. Many airlines have expressed a keen interest in such an aircraft, but only if Boeing can deliver it with economic performance closer to a 737-800 (about 3.75 cents per available seat mile) than a 777-300ER (about 4.22 cents per ASM).

It’s up to Boeing now to plot a course for the NMA that delivers such performance while avoiding the development snags that proved so costly to the 787 programme. Boeing also has to be prepared for the inevitable Airbus response. The European manufacturer has said it can build a longer version of the A321neo that matches or exceeds the NMA’s economics for one-third of the development cost.

ASIA: Expectations loom large for C919, MRJ

Asian airframers should have a fruitful and productive 2018, if Mitsubishi Aircraft and Comac have their way. These two manufacturers have the region's most closely watched programmes: the MRJ regional jet and the C919 narrowbody.

The year will be a crucial one for Mitsubishi, which has delayed its schedule five times and can ill afford another push back. Its four flight-test aircraft have so far accumulated about 1,500h, halfway through the estimated 2,500-3,000h the programme requires for type certification.

The year will see the Japanese airframer push to complete all tests that were set up before its January 2017 decision to change the design of its avionics bay to comply with certification requirements. Major trials include special runway tests, extreme environments, as well as high-altitude testing, all to be done in the USA.

An additional flight-test aircraft with the incorporated design changes should join the flight-test campaign in the second half of the year. This jet will be used for assessments associated with its wiring, such as lightning and high-intensity radio-frequency tests.

The target is to deliver the first aircraft to launch customer All Nippon Airways by mid-2020. With this, the internal target is for the programme to be type certificated some time in 2019.

The coming year could also see Mitsubishi suffer a blow to its orderbook. Eastern Air Lines could cancel its firm order for 20 MRJ90s, as well as purchase rights for an additional 20 aircraft, following its acquisition by luxury private charter operator Swift Air in 2017. Swift Air has offered no indication of taking over the order, and has largely based its business on the Boeing 737.

Another client, Air Mandalay, has a firm order for six aircraft, but also seems to be on rocky ground, having ceased and restarted operations several times in the recent years. Overall, Mitsubishi has firm orders for 233 aircraft from seven customers, and an order win in 2018 would do well to boost confidence in the programme, not to mention staff morale.

For China’s Comac, 2018 should begin with a boost to its C919 flight test campaign, in the form of a second flying prototype. If that aircraft has not flown by the time 2017 clocked out, it should make its first flight early in 2018. The coming months should also see aircraft 103 and 104 complete final assembly and join the flight-test fleet.

The first prototype, aircraft 101, which made its maiden sortie in May 2017, has been transferred to Xian and should clock good mileage in 2018. The focus will be on testing the jet's functionality and landing gear. Aircraft 102 will meanwhile be used for testing the CFM International Leap-1C engines, the auxiliary power unit and the fuel system, as well as extreme weather trials.

Comac will use six flight-test jets and conduct trials across three sites in China: Shanghai, Xian and Dongying. The target is to complete all tests within 4,200h and for the aircraft to be certificated and enter into commercial service some time in 2020-2021.

Comac faces a crucial year in 2018, then, as it it needs to quickly roll out its flight-test aircraft and get them into work fast. Issues will no doubt surface along the way, and fixes will be necessary, as proven by its ARJ21 regional jet experience. Comac will also strive to progress in the certification process with the European Aviation Safety Agency, possibly with heavy reliance on foreign experts, as well as its western suppliers.

C919 launch customer China Eastern Airlines could also take a more active role in the aircraft's development and, critically, make known airlines' expectations of a modern narrowbody. Chinese carriers have long been accustomed to the reliability of western-built jets – the idea of a home-grown product is attractive as long as it does not drag them down in a highly competitive market.

Comac has already received 730 commitments for the C919 from 27 customers; this orderbook could strengthen in 2018. The figure underlines the government's strong support for the programme, and China's aerospace ambitions, but should be treated with caution since real money has yet to change hands.

BUSINESS AVIATION: New jets make new market

The business aviation industry has a very busy year ahead, with a plethora of new, hugely anticipated aircraft programmes set to enter service after largely trouble-free and punctual certification campaigns.

Newcomers include the first jet from Swiss turboprop maker Pilatus; the PC-24 received US Federal Aviation Administration and EASA certification on 8 December 2017. Other notable newcomers are Textron Aviation's super-midsize Cessna Citation Longitude – the largest aircraft in its product line until the large-cabin Hemisphere arrives in 2020 – and Gulfstream’s clean-sheet, super-large-cabin, long-range G500 and G600, which are earmarked for entry into service at opposite ends of 2018 respectively. And, late in 2018, Bombardier’s flagship ultra-long-range Global 7000 should enter service.

Aerospace analyst Rolland Vincent believes the arrival of these new entrants will affect the market in three ways. Firstly, as a stimulant to sales: "Buyers who had self-selected to be on the sidelines pending certification and entry into service will have a plethora of choice of in-production new models,” he points out.

Next, the research and development investments that have been made in these high-cost programmes – and that have been affecting the financial performance of the OEMs and their key suppliers – will now begin to generate long-anticipated cash flows.

Finally, he says, the new players will begin to affect market share across the board, particularly in the crowded lower half of the business aircraft sector, where competition is more acute. As a new entrant in the light jet space, the clean-sheet PC-24 will be a big hit, says Vincent, successfully taking on established players such as the Bombardier Learjet 70/75, the Citation CJ4 and Embraer's Phenom 300.

The Longitude will battle for a slice of the highly contested super-midsize segment with the market-leading Bombardier Challenger 350 and Gulfstream G280. He expects it will also spur many customers operating Textron Aviation's midsize XLS, Sovereign and late-model Hawker jets to consider upgrading to their new larger, longer-range stablemate. The battle to take share across these segments "will be hard fought", says Vincent, and this will be reflected in "very aggressive pricing from the OEMs as they each try to protect their customer bases".

New aircraft entrants are not the only ones with key milestones to come in 2018. A clutch of programmes are also set to clear major programme hurdles over the coming 12 months. Italian manufacturer Tecnam will be hoping to secure certification of its P2012 Traveller piston-twin in the fourth quarter.

The aircraft is designed to fill a gap in the six- to 11-seat Part-23 piston twin-engined market segment where no new designs have been introduced for more than 40 years. Launch customer and programme partner Cape Air is scheduled to take delivery of 20 aircraft in January 2019 from an order for 100 examples. These will replace its fleet of Cessna 402s and Britten-Norman BN-2 Islanders.

Textron is on track to fly its Denali single-engined turboprop in 2018. The six-passenger aircraft is Cessna’s challenger to the top-selling pressurised turboprop single, the Pilatus PC-12NG, and will be powered by GE Aviation's in-development 1,240shp advanced turboprop engine. Pratt & Whitney Canada may also finally launch its next-generation turboprop, both as a competitive response to GE's offering and as a replacement for the most powerful versions of its venerable, market-dominating PT6 family, which drives the PC-12NG and a host of other platforms.

The Canadian engine manufacturer has for several years teased interest in a new engine in this class; in 2017 it went a step further, announcing that component-level demonstrator tests had begun. If the new P&WC engine finds a home anywhere, it would likely be with Pilatus's response to the Denali.

A380, 747-8: Super-jumbo headaches

Emirates may be providing life support for the Airbus A380, but revitalising the manufacturer's flagship programme will depend on winning more orders beyond the Gulf carrier.

The Dubai-based airline took delivery of its 100th A380 in November and has ordered a total of 142 aircraft. Emirates has said it is interested in placing further orders for the superjumbo, but the carrier is virtually the only one sustaining the production line.

A380 launch operator Singapore Airlines decided to retire four of its aircraft and replace them with newly delivered units – rather than grow its 19-strong A380 fleet. Qantas – which has 12 A380s in service – appears set not to take any of its remaining eight orders. Furthermore, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce made his view clear on Airbus's A380 development studies, including the A380plus: "I think it would take a very drunken night for me to order that."

IAG chief executive Willie Walsh and his counterpart at Lufthansa, Carsten Spohr, have praised the A380 and said that customers "love" the aircraft. But the two chief executives – which represent the two largest Boeing 747 operators, British Airways and Lufthansa – have shown no interest in ordering more A380s. Citing an "outrageous" price tag for the aircraft, Walsh said in 2017 that IAG would rather consider sourcing second-hand A380s to add to BA's 12-strong fleet.

That airlines, which already operate the A380 and know its performance, seem to be unwilling to order more – with the exception of Emirates – is perhaps particularly painful for Airbus.

Joyce acknowledges there are certain markets where "you can fill an A380". But he argues new-generation twinjets provide greater efficiency, allow year-round frequencies on less-dense routes, and, crucially, reduce risk. "We could fly two 787s [together] with two sets of pilots and two take-offs and landings, and it is cheaper to do that than an A380 flying the same route – the economics of the new technology are that much better."

Walsh has said the A380 is an "inflexible" aircraft because its size limits it to trunk routes, while smaller types can be more easily deployed across an airline network in response to demand fluctuations.

Airbus is defiant and suggests the A380's time – the aircraft entered service just before the financial crisis – is yet to come. Chief executive Tom Enders said during a delivery ceremony for Emirates' 100th A380 in November: "I am convinced we will still produce A380s 10 years from now" – and that Airbus is making efforts "to keep the aircraft competitive for 2030 and beyond".

Enders also sees a "strong base" for fleet growth in Southeast Asia and "additional potential" in China. In 2017, Airbus China president Eric Chen foresaw room for the China-based A380-fleet to grow to 60-100 aircraft by 2022. But 10 years after its service entry, there are just a handful of A380s operated by a local carrier, China Southern Airlines, in the country.

Meanwhile, Boeing dropped in 2017 the very large aircraft category – with models with 400 seats or more – from its long-term market forecast. Flight Flights Analyzer shows Boeing's 747-8 backlog comprises 12 freighters and one VIP version of the passenger-carrying 747-8I. The last 747-8I on order from an airline was delivered to Korean Air in 2017.

TURBOPROPS: Pressure builds for bigger ATR

Could 2018 be the year that ATR moves from talk to action on its well-documented desire to develop a new, larger aircraft? ATR parent Leonardo – the Italian aerospace group jointly owns the Toulouse-based turboprop manufacturer together with Airbus – has talked for several years about its ambition to develop a new model that takes capacity from around 70 to 90 or 100 seats.

Airbus has been more cautious about launching a clean-sheet design and instead proposed a more gradual evolution of the existing ATR 42/72 series.

The differences in the two shareholders' ambitions have been vivid. Leonardo's previous chief executive, Mauro Moretti, who departed in March 2017, had threatened to go ahead with plans for a 100-seat turboprop – that could be used for both civil and military operations – either on its own or with another partner outside ATR.

However, under the new leadership of Alessandro Profumo, Leonardo appears to have toned down its call for a new programme; the group noted at the Dubai air show in November that while a next-generation turboprop is "an interesting project", it "could not afford the investment" on its own without sacrificing other business areas.

Market reality may also mitigate against a new programme. Early in 2017, ATR chief executive Christian Scherer told FlightGlobal there was "infinite life" left in the existing aircraft family, and anyway ATR commands 85% of a market for around 100 aircraft per year, with the Bombardier Q400 being the only Western-built contender.

But is the market moving? Pratt & Whitney Canada is making progress with the development of a new-generation engine for a potential future turboprop specifically designed for the regional market, capable of powering aircraft with 90-100 seats and targeted for service entry in 2023-25.

And operators are calling for new equipment, too. At a European Regions Airline Association event in October, Stein Nilsen, chief executive of Norwegian regional carrier Widerøe – which is set to become the Embraer E2 regional jet's launch operator in April – said he is "sending signals" to Embraer regarding a new turboprop's development. "There is small pressure," he says, because Widerøe is set to undergo "major change" between 2025 and 2030 as a large part of its Dash 8/Q-Series turboprop fleet will require replacement.

Widerøe’s interest is not out of the blue. Throughout 2017 Embraer made noises that it is evaluating a potential return to the turboprop market, going as far as declaring itself to be “very interested” in a segment in which existing contenders fly technology that is "decades old". The Brazilian manufacturer in September held an airline advisory board meeting in Amsterdam to gauge operators' views on a potential new turboprop and reportedly found them enthusiastic.

However interested Embraer may be, though, it mirrors ATR, Airbus and Leonardo in caution. At the 2017 Dubai air show, commercial aviation chief executive John Slattery confirmed that Embraer's top priority through 2021 is to bring into service the re-engined and re-winged E2 family; launching a further programme "would be a lot for a company of our size" he says.

ATR chief executive Christian Scherer believes there is no room for more than two manufacturers in a regional turboprop market of only around 100 aircraft a year. He says he finds Embraer’s interest "extremely encouraging" but adds: "Launching a brand-new programme for less than 50 airplanes a year is a pretty damn risky proposition."

Perhaps. But it is worth noting that ATR is interested in a corporate restructure, to make itself into a limited liability company that would have management flexibility and financing options – and give it a legal framework to accept new investors. Said Scherer at Dubai air show: "We do want to run a normal business at the pace of a normal business. That's what I'm proposing to our shareholders should happen with ATR."

AIRLINES: Brighter skies

While it may have been the sharp and unexpected fall in fuel prices that helped drive the improved fortunes for airlines since 2015, it is old-fashioned economic growth that is helping to sustain it.

That proved stronger than most dared hope in 2017, given the political uncertainties that existed – and indeed remain – and drove strong air travel demand. By the summer, airlines, notably in Europe, were confident enough to raise their expectations for the year.

It means IATA now projects that collective airline profits will nearly match previous year levels at $34.5 billion for 2017 and that the industry is well placed to pocket a record high net profit of $38.4 billion in 2018.

Underpinning that growth are full aircraft – load factors have been rising for eight years, to 81.4% – and both fare and fleet discipline; yields look to have stopped falling in 2017 and IATA expects a modest 3% increase in passenger yields for 2018.

Meanwhile, says IATA chief economist Brian Pearce: "There are lots of aircraft in the orderbooks but at the moment demand is strong enough to soak them up and capacity is being added at a rate that is lower than the rate of demand, so load factors are going up."

Similar calculations are working in favour of air cargo. IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac notes: "We had a very difficult environment [for air cargo] but we have recovered [in 2017] with very good figures; capacity increased by less than 4% and the demand by 9%. So, for once, the cargo business will be profitable in many airlines, which has not been the case."

However, IATA expects unit costs to rise by 4.3% in 2018, outstripping a 3.5% increase in unit revenues – and that should pull operating margins down to 8.1% and net margins to 4.7%, below the levels of 2015 and 2016. Fuel is a big part of that equation: IATA's 2018 forecast is based on a near 11% rise in average oil prices, to around $60 per barrel for Brent crude.

Labour costs, too, have been rising and IATA expects these to account for more than 30% of airline expenditure in 2018 – more than fuel, which will be just below one-fifth of total costs.

"In past cycles airlines have ended up paying too much to their workforce, locking themselves into a cost structure that is too high for the subsequent period of weaker economic growth. So that's the worry, though I think at the moment it hasn't got to that stage," says Pearce. "Indeed, there are some signs some of the pay pressures eased in the third quarter."

SAFETY AND SECURITY: A year is a long time

Airline safety performance has been so good – and improving – over the past decade that the simple forecasting solution would be to predict that the trend will continue. There are, however, reasons for suggesting this may not happen.

As of mid-December, 2017 was set to be another year free of fatal passenger jet accidents, making plausible the holy grail of zero fatal accidents as a status quo – an actual achievement in 2015 if only passenger jet accidents, as opposed to deliberate incidents, are considered.

But safety performance did not become this good by accident. Contributory factors over the years have included the development of far more advanced and reliable technology, and hugely improved safety awareness at all levels in airlines.

The latter was largely brought about by improvements in safety policy starting in the 1990s that were informed by improved data analysis, and the relative ease in a digital era of communicating to the industry the results of the analyses. Today, some regions still remain safer than others, but everywhere there is gradual improvement.

The risk is that airline safety performance is now so good that national aviation authorities may be expected by cash-strapped governments to harvest the "safety dividend" by cutting oversight costs. There are those in the industry who warn that the move towards "performance-based regulation" policies in some of the more mature aviation nations is being used to make the industry more self-regulating, enabling a reduction in independent oversight and regulatory enforcement.

Complacency resulting from success might allow hard-won lessons to be sidestepped and, if that were to happen, the standards the industry enjoys today might be sacrificed. In other fields such as finance the world has learned in the past decade that depending to too great a degree on self-regulation is not wise.

Security forecasting is more difficult because the threats are constantly changing, even as the air-travel-specific technical solutions seem to be improving. Yet some of the truths about safety also hold good for security. The year 2017 did not contain a significant security event at the time this forecast went to press, but a year is a short time.

It was only in April 2016 that the industry suffered the terrorist attack on Brussels Zaventem airport terminal that killed 32 people, and October 2015 when the Russian MetroJet Airbus A321 was blown out of the sky over Sinai, in Egypt.

The MetroJet sabotage event was a wake-up call for the need for recurrent security checks on airport employees with airside jobs, just as the late-November terrorist attack on a mosque in northern Sinai is a confirmation that specific regions are at particular risk, and precise intelligence about where risks are highest needs to be shared internationally and resources deployed accordingly.

As for developments in the security environment, recent international history is instructive. The bomb attack at Brussels Zaventem air terminal coincided with an attack on the city’s Maalbeek metro station, serving as a reminder that all places where people gather are potential terrorist targets. That simple fact has been confirmed by attacks over the past three years on non-aviation targets in Paris, Nice, Manchester and London.

It would be unwise, however, for the air transport industry to assume that the terrorist focus is shifting away from aviation, because the air transport industry is still the ultimate prestige target for terrorists. Meanwhile, the full-body scanning tools and smart automatic security systems that are now becoming more common at airports are making terrorists less likely to succeed, but complacency resulting from a year's apparent success is a danger in itself.

ROTORCRAFT: New types take shape

The year 2018 looks to be one of transition for helicopter manufacturers. While no new models are due to enter service, the majority of certification testing on three clean-sheet aircraft – each bringing something different to their segment – will be wrapped up. Airbus Helicopters will be anxious to achieve a smooth transition to serial production on the H160. This will provide a stern test of the manufacturer's new industrial model, but Airbus is in a position – after the financial and reputational damage inflicted by the H225 – where it cannot fail again.

Bell Helicopter, meanwhile, is still seeking to get its 525 Relentless back on track after a fatal crash in testing during July 2016. Aside from the challenge of certification, it must prove to the wider market that fly-by-wire controls bring tangible benefits to commercial operators: a must-have, rather than a nice-to-have, if you like.

And in Italy, Leonardo Helicopters must carve out a niche for the AW609 civil tiltrotor as it attempts to gain a head-start in the fledgling segment. In terms of the relative likelihood of a positive outcome, the alphabet probably provides a guide to the likely success of each manufacturer: Airbus, then Bell, then Leonardo. That is not to say all three cannot make a go of each programme, just that probability sometimes favours the more conventional.

So while this forecast is largely a prediction that the status quo will be maintained over the next 12 months – sales, too, will show little positive change – there will be plenty going on in the background to make 2019 a more interesting year.

HYPERSONIC FLIGHT: Europe feels need for speed

It is too early to talk about London-Sydney in 2h, but point-to-point flight at hypersonic speed, or at least the technical underpinnings for it, may be on the horizon. ESA has for several years made clear its intention to develop the ability to bring payloads home safely from orbit, and is now putting up the money to develop a spaceplane – to fly from 2021.

After signing on as prime contractor at the end of November, development work in 2018 will be urgent, to prepare for a critical design review in 2019.

Thales Alenia Space chief executive Donato Amoroso said the reusable Space Rider project "represents a major step forward in our re-entry vehicle road map… paving the way to larger and more challenging applications, including reusable stages, point-to-point flights and even space tourism".

Space Rider will be a fully autonomous lifting-body craft based closely on ESA's TAS-built IXV (Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle), which made a perfect sub-orbital flight from a Vega launch in 2015, proving exotic control and heat-shielding technologies.

That vehicle – shown post-flight at the 2015 Paris air show – turns out to have been the prototype for Space Rider, which will reach orbit on the bigger Vega C vehicle, now in development in Italy by Avio, for service from 2020. As co-contractor on Space Rider, Avio is also developing a disposable control module for the spaceplane, based on an iteration of Vega’s AVUM restartable upper stage.

The total mass of Space Rider, including a payload of up to 800kg, will be 3t, and the craft will be able to spend two months in orbit, providing unrivalled access to microgravity and space conditions to test sensors or payload technologies, or carry out scientific research. Unlike the US Air Force's larger – and top-secret – Boeing X-37 autonomous mini-spaceplane, Space Rider will be available principally to commercial customers.

ESA's Vega and Space Rider development programmes manager Giorgio Tumino says the agency is interested in booking flights from pharmaceutical companies, who want not only to study chemistry in microgravity but to bring their payloads home gently.

To that end, where IXV’s flight ended with a splash-down, Space Rider will land on the ground. Tumino says the choice between wheels or skids, to land on a runway or "prepared terrain", is still open. Work done on recovery by Lockheed Martin in the UK has considered mid-air recovery, but while that has not been ruled out, says Tumino, it is no longer in the "baseline".

Each Space Rider vehicle will be re-flyable up to five times; like IXV, they will be protected from the heat of re-entry by a combination of permanent shields and refurbishable ablative coatings, that burn away in the heat of hitting the atmosphere at a stunning Mach 25 or 26.

One aspect of Space Rider that deserves special note is the price. The target all-in mission cost of €40 million ($47 million) is, at €50,000/kg of payload, "cheaper than getting to space today", says Tumino.

So, if all goes to plan – and it should be stressed that IXV was a flawless curtain-raiser – Europe's mastery of hypersonic heat and flight control looks like a gateway to those "larger and more challenging applications" alluded to by Amoroso.

Fonte: FlightGlobal 27/12/2017

  : aviacao-comercial, aviacao-executiva, aviacao-geral, internacional