The availability of safe and efficient mobility is a pillar of today’s society. However, this mobility faces many challenges. For example, the ever-growing demand in air traffic requires growth in capacity without compromising safety. Also, environmental constraints and climate change demand new technologies to reduce the climate footprint of aviation. Finally, customers demand shortened overall travel time, better connectivity and improved information, to name but a few examples. At the same time, there is a growing worldwide competition to address.
These complex challenges require world-class research and development, and therefore world-class Research Infrastructure (RI). The aeronautical RIs will be instrumental to validate new technologies with minor impact on the community and environment. Europe does have a strong tradition in this respect, but to cope with the challenges ahead, the future requires considerably more coordination in developing and operating these facilities.
Today, the RINGO project delivers a start in this direction. RINGO provides the first available analysis on what facilities are available and what are needed for future aviation research in Europe, as well as on suitable operational and business models for their management. Many experts and researchers have supported us in identifying these aviation research infrastructure needs. As a result, a comprehensive picture has emerged. This helps to identify the existing gaps, and thereby support decision-makers at all levels and within all organizations throughout the entire aviation community in planning, maintaining and operating RIs in Europe in the future.
We, the RINGO consortium, believe that we have provided one piece of the puzzle. We hope to help European players maintain leadership in rapidly changing worldwide markets, and coping with future customer and environment demands.
At its start, the European Commission tasked the RINGO project to provide an analysis of needs, gaps and overlaps of European Aviation Research Infrastructures in order to reach Flightpath 2050 goals, as well as to provide concepts and ideas for sustainable operating and business models for such RIs.
The catalogue of Aviation Research Infrastructures
We have compiled a catalogue of about 350 RIs, operated mostly by research organisations and universities. This catalogue uses data from prior existing catalogues as well as information collected by contacting directly infrastructure owners.
The catalogue classifies RIs as “strategic” (replacement cost > 100 M€), “key” (10 – 100 M€) and “common”. Also, it clusters them in 8 classes: wind tunnels, propulsion bench, flight test bed, structures, material, simulator, supercomputers and “others”.
To ease the catalogue consultation, we have also developed an interactive online tool, the Interactive Research Infrastructures (RIs) Map.
Needs and gaps of aviation Research Infrastructures in Europe
The identification of RI needs was based on relevant Flightpath 2050 goals and respective capabilities mentioned in the Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda (SRIA). Hence, we identified major topics, for which research is essential in order to reach those goals. Then, we discussed needed aviation research infrastructures in relation to the thematic fields included in the SRIA.
As a result, we identified a large number of Research Infrastructure Needs (RIN). Matching these Needs with the Catalogue of already available infrastructures, we then grouped them into three categories, Identity, Asset Gaps and Capability Gaps.
Out of the 158 Needs identified, already existing facilities can satisfy 61 of them (Identity), 56 Needs require an upgrade of an existing facility (Capability Gap), and 41 require a completely new Asset Gap. Most RIs are lacking in vehicle-related disciplines such as aerodynamics, aero-elastics, acoustics, and propulsion.
Roughly one quarter out of the identified RINs are of highest priority. This means that the research topic supported by the RI is vital to reach Flightpath 2050 goals, the RI is vital for the research topic, and the facility is needed immediately. From the total of 45 RINs of such high importance, 9 require a new facility and 15 the upgrade of an existing facility. These 24 asset and capability gaps should be addressed as soon as possible.
Sustainable operating and business models for aviation RIs
In addition, the RINGO project was also tasked for the identification of suitable and sustainable governance and operational models, funding and financing policies, and business models.
To reach this goal, we have derived suggestions for sustainable operational and business models from the information gathered. In addition, we looked at best practice results, also from other domains than aviation as well as outside of Europe.
Regarding operational and business models, our conclusions are that Europe needs better synchronisation between different roadmaps and novel financing schemes. The latter can comprehend, for example, a voucher system or public-private partnerships.
Finally, the Commission requested drawing budgeting requirements for RIs on a European scale to maintain global competitiveness. The RINGO project approximated these within a separate activity. As a result, we found a need for a large increase of investments into RIs for the EU to remain competitive with other countries, such as the USA and China. Additional resources should also fund enhanced collaboration and providing access to existing facilities.