Aviation offers governments lessons to accelerate push for autonomous vehicles post-Covid-19

Infrastructure, regulations and public-private partnerships are three key areas that autonomous driving stakeholders can learn from civil aviation, new report says

Governments should look to the civil aviation industry for critical lessons on the mass adoption of autonomous vehicle (AV) technology to overcome barriers caused by legal and regulatory uncertainties, according to a new report.

Infrastructure, regulations and public-private partnerships are the three key areas in which AV stakeholders can learn from civil aviation, global consultancy Strategy& said in its report, Enabling the Mass Adoption of Autonomous Driving Lessons from the Aviation Industry.

"The airline industry offers critical lessons for how AV technology may develop, and how government policymakers and other stakeholders across the AV ecosystem should properly prepare for the gradual introduction of the technology," Camil Tahan, Nabil Katicha and Gerasimos Skaltsas, the report's co-authors, said.

The global market for autonomous car technology is growing rapidly and expected to expand to $557 billion by 2026, up from an estimated $54bn in 2019, according to Allied Market Research.

Nearly 100 cities worldwide have some form of pilot programme under way, but many of them have focused on the scope of testing that companies can conduct on public roads. China, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Singapore, Sweden, the UK and the US have all led regulatory efforts to promote the safe testing of self-driving cars.

The growing automation in the aviation sector can provide useful pointers for the automotive industry as it seeks to overcome barriers to mass adoption, the Strategy& report said.

The commercial aviation industry has incorporated significant autonomy in its systems for several decades through technological standards that are set on an international basis, it added.

"The underlying rationale for automation is the same for both industries: safety is paramount, with efficiency, reliability, congestion management, and other factors secondary though important," the authors said. "What works for aviation can work for automotives."

Drawing on lessons from aviation in the key area of infrastructure, the report shows that the AV industry must introduce communication protocols between autonomous vehicles to increase safety standards.

Real-time tracking of the vehicles’ road worthiness by manufacturers and authorities, along with the ability to intervene, will be necessary.

The industry must also standardise tangible assets like lanes and road sensors as well as communication protocols between vehicles for the mass adoption of the technology, while regulation of the AV industry will require agreement and convergence of standards across geographic markets, the report said.

"Consumers will adopt AV technology only if it is safe and seamless across borders and jurisdictions," it added. "Governments will need to coalesce around clear standards in areas such as vehicle testing, insurance liability and cybersecurity."

The implementation of AV technology for public-private partnerships will require an ecosystem of existing and new public and private stakeholders, including manufacturers, traffic authorities, telecommunication and data providers, fleet managers, vehicle inspection centres, insurers, emergency services and cybersecurity firms, the report said.

Meanwhile, new business models will emerge and current stakeholders will have to adapt to remain relevant, the report said, pointing to the example of a car subscription model versus car ownership.

"The technology to deliver roads filled with AVs has almost arrived," the report authors said. "Visionary governments should facilitate their introduction by learning from aviation and crafting rules and regulations that will deliver the benefits of safer and more efficient transport," they added.

"Moreover, private stakeholders should rethink their business models to become more relevant and monetise their offering in a very different automotive future."