Commercial Aviation: Rooted in Glory, Strained by Exponential Growth Written 13 June 2016

Keynote speaker: Michael Delaney, vice president, Airplane Development, Boeing Commercial Airplanes

by Hannah Godofsky, AIAA Communications

Michael Delaney, vice president and general manager, Airplane Development, The Boeing Company, delivers the opening keynote address on the morning of 13 June, at the 2016 AIAA AVIATION Forum, taking place 13-17 June in Washington, DC.

From the first flight in 1903, the commercial aviation industry has grown swiftly and has achieved much, but that growth has brought challenges, which Michael Delaney, the vice president of airplane development with Boeing Commercial Airplanes, discussed June 13 during the opening session at the AIAA Aviation and Aeronautics Forum and Exposition 2016 in Washington, DC.

“The time that lapsed between Orville Wright’s first flight and Neil Armstrong’s giant leap was just a mere 65 years,” Delaney said. “The second World War served as a greater industrial stimulus that gave rise to the jet engine, rocket-powered propulsion, radar and long-distance airplanes. … The peacetime dividend was a masterful supersonic flight less than 45 years after Kitty Hawk and the birth of the commercial jet transport, ultimately, with man leaving the planet Earth in 1969.”

But, he said, as commercial aviation has grown into a massive global industry, success built upon these past achievements has brought infrastructure, security, and energy and environmental challenges. 

“Sixty-five billion people flew in the first 100 years of flight,” Delaney said. “Sixty-five billion people are expected to fly between now and 2030. The congestion level is beginning to resemble the 405 freeway in California and Washington [State].” 

Long security lines and high volumes of people are exacerbating the strain on outdated infrastructure that is already at capacity, he said, adding that security is also a major issue.

“Since 9/11, we have had to live with heightened level of security. I see this only getting harder,” Delaney said. 

The threat of cyberattacks in the aviation world also looms large with more electronic systems and more sophisticated hackers seeking to exploit them, he said. 

Delaney also discussed the energy and environmental challenges faced by an industry growing as quickly as the commercial aviation industry is. Commercial aircraft are so large and consume so much energy that they barely resemble the gliders and small planes of their lineage. 

However, he said there are current projects that show promise in making the future of aviation leaner and greener. Delaney compared the Solar Impulse 2 to the Wright Flyer, which was also very small and very slow but “shows us what’s possible.” 

“There is certainly no shortages of challenges that our industry needs to step up and address now and in the future,” he said. “We have a responsibility to set the path for the future.”



All 2016 AIAA AVIATION Forum Videos