– Steve Hitchen
Sorry for the inconvenience, but today is indeed Thursday and not Friday, the traditional day for The Last Minute Hitch. We're coming out today courtesy of an imperative that will see me away from my desk tomorrow. Don't worry, we should be back on a Friday rhythm from next week.
Piper and Pilatus announced this week they were teaming up to host a block party at Oshkosh. Apparently they first proposed the idea a few years ago, but like so many other things in aviation, COVID canceled it. What a great idea this was; it shows that aviation really is a large community and one worth celebrating. Something like this would go down well at Avalon. One thing experience has shown me is that when two companies successfully join forces on an initiative, they start to find other things that they could collaborate on. Piper and Pilatus are competitors in theory only because their products don't clash at any level. Piper don't make jets (remember the ill-fated Altaire idea?) and their SETP is only a six-seater, not much of a competitor to the utilitarian PC-12. On their part, Pilatus don't make civil trainers, the bread-and-butter of Piper. These two companies have very little in common (except being good customers of Pratt & Whitney Canada), so rivalry won't get in the way enjoying each others' company in the future. Co-operation might be limited to inside the perimeter of Airventure, or it might not. Just imagine.
Three stories in this week's newsletter relate to sustainable aviation: Diamond's eDA40, Continental's SAF tests and ZeroAvia's Dornier experiments. These three represent the most likely powerplants of the future: conventional electricity, biofuels in turbines and hydrogen-electric power. All of them are emerging as the future energy source of the aviation industry, and each will find its own niche as the world drives to net zero emissions by 2050. The big stumbling block is, as Tecnam found out, the technology is too immature in reliability to be just around the corner. You could argue (and I am sure some manufacturers will) that electric power is ready to go now, but the technology is not yet at a point that enables aircraft to have a lot of versatility or endurance. Momentum is behind SAF, but even now only as a blend with fossil fuels. If the CD range can piggy-back off the enormous demand for turbine fuels, it may prove a viable option for GA trainers and private propeller-driven aircraft in the years ahead. Hydrogen-electric is soaking up a lot of development money, and is likely to be positioned as a greener alternative to SAF/diesel blends. The big milestone will come when ZeroAvia flies its Dornier without the safety net of a conventional turbo-prop to save the day if the technology glitches out, just as one day something has to fly powered by 100% SAF if emissions targets are to be met. There's a lot way to go, and the hurdles are large and many, but one or all of these new powertrains will in the future be day-to-day technology in aviation.
There are only three weeks now until Pacific Airshow Gold Coast begins. This is a departure from the traditional air show in Australia in that it's not being held at an airport, and won't be surrounded by exhibitors and marquees from GA industry stakeholders. In that, it's an air show directed more at the general public. In ways, don't mind that; we're better off using the magic of aviation to inspire new entrants than we are once again directing our marketing efforts inward. Perhaps GA's greatest asset in the show will prove to be the Freedom Formation Team: 12 RVs and a Yak leader that will show off the skills and professionalism of the GA pilot. The thing with fast military stuff is that it is generally out of the reach of most aspiring aviators. So many answer the call, yet so very few are chosen. GA is different. We are genuinely within the reach of the average person if they honestly have the passion and enthusiasm for flight. Go Freedom Formation; show them what we are made of.
May your gauges always be in the green,