Usually less in the spotlight than commercial aviation, light aviation or general aviation (GA) has for several years been actively engaged in an innovation drive to develop an entire sustainable ecosystem. This topic was central to the Green Aero Days event that took place in France in December, where commentators said that this sector could be a small-scale model for the entire aviation industry.
GA is far from being the poor relation of commercial aviation. It is now almost ten times the size of commercial aviation in France in terms of the number of registered aircraft, and slightly exceeds it in terms of flight movements per year1.
The many users (leisure, sport and tourism) and professionals in the sector (private business trips, firefighting, rescue, etc.) are naturally seeking to preserve GA activities in a low-carbon world, whether as aviation enthusiasts or as providers of a necessary public service. Technological advances and innovative projects in the sector in recent years also show how this type of aviation can serve as a testbed for tomorrow's regional air mobility, including commercial aviation, particularly as certification processes are often simpler, enabling developments to be implemented more quickly than in commercial aviation.
Small prototypes, big ambitions
At first sight, one might think that the issue is limited to the aircraft itself and its energy supply, and indeed the initiatives and projects that are taking shape today do focus on this. However, what's needed is a whole lifecycle view of these aircraft, covering manufacturing of low-carbon light aircraft and related certification issues, industrialisation, as well as aircraft dismantling and recycling. The main difficulties that remain today surrounding aircraft and technologies are related to electric propulsion, both for take-off and for cruising speed, batteries (range, recharging time, weight, safety, etc.) and the use of sustainable energy sources.
To a certain extent, what remains embryonic today, with demonstration modules in a world of enthusiasts where major groups like Safran and start-ups come together, is reminiscent of the early days of aviation. The challenge is no longer to know how to fly an aircraft, but to fly it using other technologies in order to decarbonise aviation. So, we're seeing trials and first steps on small aircraft that will enable us to move on to larger, low-carbon, efficient aircraft in the future.
It was clear from the Green Aero Days event that aircraft manufacturers, energy producers, investors, equipment manufacturers and certain airports are working together within this ecosystem to imagine sustainable air mobility for the future, with issues that go beyond light aviation and its aircraft.