Aviation has always been one of the most innovative and fast-moving industries in the world. From the early beginnings of flight in the 1900s up until the introduction of today’s ultra-efficient commercial aircraft, significant progress has been made not only in form of air travel, but also the volume. Today, people are looking ahead to 50 years in the future and imagining what air transport might look like, with concepts such as electric aircraft and low-volume supersonic travel being credibly aspired to.

With such fast-paced technological development, it is unsurprising that ground-breaking, disruptive evolutions such as these are often predicted in the field of aviation. Indeed, this tendency to look towards the future has been around for quite some time. Back in 1966, the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) asked its experts to look forward 50 years in the future to 2016 and give their predictions for the state of air travel. While our own predictions for the next 50 years will for now remain a mystery, we can now look back at the sort of ideas were suggested and see if they bear any resemblance to today’s air transport environment.

In their enlightening article, ‘Visions of the future’, RAeS highlight some of these predictions. While some of them, such as man making the journey to Mars by the 1980s and nuclear powered aircraft, were wildly off the mark, others were remarkably prescient. The expansion of air travel, for example, was accurately foreseen, with air traffic levels expanding tenfold since 1966 and becoming relatively commonplace. The use of composite materials, particularly carbon composites, too, were accurately predicted. The latest generation of aircraft and engines all contain a certain amount of composite material, making aircraft lighter and engines more able to withstand higher temperatures.    

Interestingly, some of the barriers to popular ideas such as single-person aircraft put forward in the 1960s remain true today, with one RAeS member fearing the thought of “tens of thousands of amateur pilots in a limited air space”.

So, the question now is what will the next 50 years hold for aviation? For our part, we foresee a far more environmentally friendly air transport network  with even more efficient aircraft and engines (maybe even fully-electric), a consolidated air traffic management system, a lot more sustainable alternative fuel and more people enjoying the benefits of air travel. Watch this space!