November 13, 2010
By Thomas A. Horne
Concern over general aviation’s future is nothing new, but futurist John L. Petersen linked technological leaps with aviation in 2020 and beyond in the Nov. 13 keynote speech at AOPA Aviation Summit.
Conventional assumptions of the next few decades are mind-boggling, Petersen said, and include many rarified scenarios. To begin with, Petersen cited futurist Raymond Kurzweil, saying that by 2030, we’ll experience 80 times the technological advances of the entire 20th century. Included in this surge are several technologies that directly apply to general aviation.
One of them is what Petersen called an “all-electric world,” which is now being foreshadowed in GA by the appearance of the first electrically powered airplanes. Another phenomenon will be increased computational power—in 2045, he estimated that computers will have one billion times the intelligence of all human intelligence today. This, in turn, directly impacts future flying. Like cockpits with “augmented reality,” that already has its seeds in today’s interactive automotive navigation. Want to go direct to ABC VOR? Then speak up, and the airplane will follow.
Perhaps most provocative, Petersen posed a future in which pilots will face a choice between virtual and actual travel. With computers and Internet applications capable of creating Web-based duplicate realities, pilots may well feel a tension between flying themselves to Las Vegas, for example, or surrounding themselves in an artificial Las Vegas—complete with the sights, sounds, and precisely duplicated surroundings that are indistinguishable from the real thing.
But at the same time, Petersen said that there will always be a place for the GA we all know today.
“In the future, pilots will be older, and will value actual experiences more than acquisitions,” he said. He also asserted that technological advances will make future airplanes easier to fly, less expensive to fly, and less costly to own.
As for inspiring people to learn to fly, Petersen claimed that simply giving introductory rides will not be enough: “We have to emphasize more of the spiritual nature of flying.”
—Thomas A. Horne
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne has worked at AOPA since the early 1980s. He began flying in 1975 and has an airline transport pilot and flight instructor certificates. He’s flown everything from ultralights to Gulfstreams and ferried numerous piston airplanes across the Atlantic.
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