Executive Director of the SESAR Joint Undertaking
Dear Frank, many thanks for your invitation, it is a true pleasure and an honour to be here today.
1967 was a milestone year in European aviation with the signature of the memorandum leading to the launch of the A300 project and the subsequent creation of Airbus. Significant because it was also the year when the Concorde emerged from its hangar for its first public appearance. Last but not least, 1967 saw the creation of EUROCONTROL Experimental Centre, providing European aviation with an unprecedented pool of research expertise and knowledge.
The timing of the Centre’s opening was by no means a matter of chance. At that time European leaders anticipated that the development of commercial aviation was about to literally take off and to change the world forever. With it came new opportunities and challenges requiring individual States to go beyond their own national interests and to team-up on very strategic and ambitious projects. These projects would bring together the brightest minds from across the continent to build extraordinary aircraft and gradually the tools and operating environment to make them fly. What foresight they showed!
50 years on, the choices made in the 60s proved to be the right ones and the EUROCONTRIOL Experimental Centre was very much part of this adventure. Those choices led to what aviation is today, the lifeblood of our economy, the key to mobility in Europe and a driver of connectivity with the rest of the world.
Some might believe that aviation has reached its zenith and that it is now just a matter of operating and fine tuning the system rather than a strategic challenge. But I don’t share this belief. In fact, I believe that aviation has the potential to soar to even greater heights. Let’s look a bit ahead of us.
What is at the heart of aviation?
First up, it is all about the aircraft, things that can basically move in the air. In the not-so-distant future, air vehicles are set to become more autonomous, more connected, more intelligent. That’s not all: there will be all sorts of new vehicles, drones or should we call them “robots with wings”, not to mention balloons or even sub-orbital aircraft. All these vehicles are edging in, claiming their share of the skies.
Second up, it is about services, mainly services relating to the transport of passengers or goods. But things are evolving there too; today’s passengers don’t really care about flying with a specific airline, they only care about their mobility. They expect to get from A to B, door to door with minimal fuss. With a few swipes of their smartphone, they can compare the best available offers and options and then order the transport package that suits them. But air services are growing as well beyond what is air transport today with projects like “last-mile air delivery” for the fast growing e-commerce, aerial surveillance services for infrastructure energy, agriculture and tomorrow, most probably, urban air mobility.
Finally aviation is about all that is necessary to make things fly safely and as efficiently as possible. This aviation ecosystem will have to evolve just like the rest of the value chain driven of course by public interest, but as well by technology: internet of things, big data, and artificial intelligence. This is all on its way.
What is Air Traffic Management today will have to adapt and even anticipate to a certain extent this transformation. It has already started and the EEC is part of this endeavour as a key partner within the SESAR programme. Today more than ever we need to be excellent in aviation at European level if we want to be successful. Like with everything, excellence today has evolved: it doesn’t mean exactly what it meant in the past. Of course it is about the science, facilities, computers, platforms, test beds. But today it is as well about time to market, about being result and implementation-oriented. Above all, excellence is about collaboration. There is no point in trying to do what others can do much, much better, so we must be open to teaming up with them, technology leaders, innovators, scientists.
On a final note; to be successful and have fun as well – that’s important- we have to be bold. We should embrace new challenges, give them our best shot and be willing to give them another shot, and another, until we have succeeded. Our path to success comes not just from our attained knowledge but from continued experimentation.
This ongoing experimentation is the result of a continuous and rigorous involvement of the Bretigny experts throughout the course of the centre’s 50 years’ history. The work performed by the EEC staff is recognised worldwide and today represents a very significant contribution to SESAR.
The future of aviation looks bright and I believe we have the power to shape it. With “Experimental” in its name, I have no doubt that the Bretigny EUROCONTROL Centre will continue to be an engine for excellence in European aviation research, inventing the system of tomorrow.
Thank you for your attention.