Sept. 11, 2020

Speaking during a panel of industry leaders on Thursday, NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen described sustainability as “a long-term commitment” that will be met through technological progress and a continued focus on reducing emissions.

Bolen was one of several aviation leaders invited to participate in the National Aeronautic Association and National Aviation Hall of Fame’s “Sustainability and Innovation: Ensuring the Future of Aviation” webinar to share perspectives on the industry’s environmental efforts. He expressed optimism that even as business aviation awaits potentially game-changing technology, it will continue reducing emissions through enhancements in materials, avionics and training.

“From winglets to composite technologies to better engines, we’re seeing consistent improvements in efficiency every year,” said Bolen.

The industry’s commitment to sustainability will be front and center at the inaugural Virtual 2020 Business Aviation Sustainability Summit, set for Sept 14-15.

Bolen noted that an understandable focus on COVID-19 has overshadowed exciting breakthroughs in next-generation aviation technology, including sustainable aviation fuel, advanced air mobility (AAM) and supersonic jets. “This is one of the most exciting times in aerospace technology history,” he said.
The most promising development for some panelists and audience members is the progress made on electric propulsion technology. When asked to pick the next big innovation, 64% of audience members selected electric propulsion – a prediction backed by panelist George Bye, founder and CEO of Bye Aerospace.

Bye explained that one of the biggest technological hurdles – an inability to store the large amounts of energy required for flight – is currently being cleared. He said the industry has “crossed the threshold of practical electric certified aircraft” thanks to large advances in battery density technology.

“In just five years, engineers have increased the energy stored per unit from 100 Wh/kg to 270 Wh/kg,” said Bye.

Asked how changing consumer habits could impact how new technologies are developed, Bolen cautioned that while it’s too early to gauge long-term effects of COVID-19, there is mounting evidence showing a population shift away from the largest urban areas toward suburbs and secondary cities.

“Perhaps we’re looking at smaller-sized cities as a bigger part of the economy moving forward,” he said, adding that the industry is in a strong position to adapt because of the country’s robust general aviation airport infrastructure.