Aviation start-ups and the innovation agenda

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If you haven't heard of Wingly, 'the Airbnb of the aviation world' then you probably soon will. It is the latest start-up in the 'Gig economy', this time trying to disrupt the otherwise slow-moving world of commercial flying for fare paying passengers. Launched in July 2016 and with headquarters in Paris, this flight-sharing platform for General Aviation already has 30,000 active users in England, France and Germany and sees itself as a new way of getting people into the air. Maybe not yet the Uber of the skies, but there are plenty of variations on this theme that are now emerging to try and connect people, places, vehicles, services and, of course revenues, in new ways.

Dig a little deeper and you will find that most of aviation's major players are pursuing innovation agendas, often in collaboration with start-ups, and they are beginning to reap the rewards. IAG launched start-up accelerator Hangar 51 in October 2016 and has since invested in two of the five start-ups that made it through the 'pitching process'. In April this year, Boeing launched HorizonX, its venture capital arm and also continued its association with Starburst, an accelerator offering access to seed funding and to major aerospace companies. Helios caught up with Starburst at an innovation showcase event during the 2017 Paris Airshow, where we heard over 20 pitches from a variety of start-ups attempting to develop technology which might be very useful in drone applications.

Separately, in June, Airbus opened Le Garage, its dedicated Research & Technology Hub in Toulouse, and also launched Skywise, a partnership with big-data integration and advanced analytics pioneer Palantir Technologies.

Innovations rarely emerge from large corporations with hierarchical structures, where everyone tends to play it safe. Innovations require space, and permission to take risks. That's why they thrive in young companies with little to lose but everything to gain, and in regions that offer them the right commercial and innovation ecosystem to encourage their growth. That ecosystem ideally aligns funding with complimentary expertise and, most importantly, access to markets. That is why the developments in aviation hubs/accelerators/incubators in the last 12 months are so exciting. They are creating the innovation-friendly ecosystems within which aviation as a whole can reimagine aspects, or indeed whole swathes, of existing business models. The question now for "legacy aviation" is, how will you respond?

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