While it is sensitive to such traumatic events as those of 11 September 2001, which brought a temporary setback for the airlines, as globalisation continues to accelerate, aeronautics will most certainly remain one of the most dynamic sectors of the global economy during the decades to come. Air traffic is set to triple in volume by 2020, with passenger traffic increasing at a rate of 5% a year and cargo traffic at 6%. This will generate a world-wide demand for about 15 500 new aircraft at an estimated value of ?1.3 trillion.
The major challenge facing the aviation industry today is to meet this growing demand for mobility while at the same time meeting the new imperative of sustainable development. Although much has been achieved over the past 30 years, thanks in particular to the Airbus programme, the priorities have changed: the watchwords are no longer 'higher, further and faster' but 'safer, cleaner, quieter' – plus increased accessibility.
A new generation of aircraft must be developed to meet these economic, environmental and safety concerns which are generally shared by passengers and anyone living in the vicinity of an airport. In January 2001, European aircraft manufacturers drew up specifications for air transport in 2020, which can be summed up in five major goals:
- to reduce accidents by one-fifth;
- to reduce aircraft noise pollution by half;
- to reduce carbon dioxide emissions per kilometre-passenger by half (while reducing fuel consumption);
- to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 80%; and
- to develop an air traffic control system able to manage 16 million flights a year with airports operational 24 hours a day and offering increased comfort for passengers.
The space sector is of course facing challenges of a different kind. Satellite applications are now proving to be tools which can be used in everyday applications in many economic sectors – meteorology, agriculture, fishing, transport, telecommunications – as well as in implementing environmental, defense and joint security policy.
However, the present generation of satellites is based on devices developed over the past two decades and would benefit from upgrading. Whether in radio navigation (for transport in particular), earth observation (for environmental and security needs) or telecommunications, there is a vast potential to develop new systems equipped with much more efficient technological facilities.