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Guest column by Chris Atkin, Royal Aeronautical Society

Picture of Chris Atkin

Chris Atkin

Royal Aeronautical Society / President


The aerospace sector is remarkably innovative and forward-thinking.  The discovery of solutions that change the way society operates and the world economy functions is what we as aeronautical professionals are all about.

One hundred and fifty years ago this year the Royal Aeronautical Society was founded and it is a huge privilege to become Society president in our sesquicentennial year.  It is a chance to reflect on the many remarkable achievements of the past 150 years. Although the foundation of the Society followed on from the earliest aeronautical achievement of hot air ballooning, it came well before the heavier-than-air flights of Otto Lilienthal and the Wright brothers. Pushing boundaries and defying traditional logic is nothing new for our community. There are learned bodies like ourselves, and some more venerable, than the Royal Aeronautical Society, but very few which pre-date the vast majority of the art and society which they were founded to promote.

Pushing boundaries and defying traditional logic is nothing new for our community.

Today our industry brings together mind-bogglingly large numbers of people: fostering understanding between national and transforming global commerce.  At the same time, it is enabling the projection of military force of the most sobering power and reach.  In addition to commercial transportation and military power, aerospace and aviation also facilitate a vast array of recreational, sporting and humanitarian and scientific purposes, not least the conquest of space.

As part of the Society’s 150th anniversary celebrations we are also taking a glance at the next 50 years.  While impossible to predict exactly what will be criss-crossing the skies, we can already see how the industry is changing.

Unmanned systems are in relative infancy, but with further technological development and regulatory change, could be transformational in a number of society functions related to agriculture, infrastructure management and maintenance, and emergency response to name a few.

Space is becoming less likely to remain the preserve of a special few.  Space tourism is becoming a very realistic prospect.  The technology is already at an advanced stage and the demand for this activity is maturing.

Pressures for the industry to develop even greater fuel efficient and environmentally friendly air systems are unlikely to ease under legislative and regulatory pressures, as well as under the weight of public opinion.  Albeit on a small scale, electric aircraft solutions are in progression.  Technological barriers that limit mainstream, commercial application persist but are not insurmountable.

The immediate challenge will be to ensure continuity of expertise and commitment from the people within the industry.  The essence of the Royal Aeronautical Society will be to build on our successes of converting information into knowledge; experience into best practice; values into standards; analysis into idea; enthusiasm into action.

In many ways, after 150 years the business of the Society has not changed.  Our role is to continue to convene knowledgeable, experienced and enthusiastic people, working together in an environment of independence and impartiality.

In short, we can be sure that history will repeat itself: that success will be achieved by bringing good ideas and good people together.

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