Alphabet Chairman Urges Aerospace Industry to Revamp Air-Traffic and Plane Development Systems

By Robert Wall Features Dow Jones Newswires

Alphabet Inc. Chairman Eric Schmidt on Friday called on the aerospace industry and its regulators to embrace advanced software systems to shed big costs and reduce development time for new equipment.

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"When I think about aviation I think of a proud industry that doesn't use software very much," said Mr. Schmidt, who is also a pilot. The software backbone currently used is largely old, he said, adding "there is an opportunityÂ…to actually accelerate change by virtue of the use of software."

Revamping how flights are routed in the U.S. and Europe should be one of the first targets for using advanced software systems, Mr. Schmidt said at the Paris Air Forum. "Improvements in air-traffic control will yield very, very big improvements in airplane efficiency and climate-change carbon emissions," he said.

The Trump administration last month launched a controversial plan to transform the federal air-traffic control system into an independent, nongovernmental organization that is opposed by some lawmakers and aviation groups.

Mr. Schmidt said he had discussed possible improvements to the U.S. air-traffic system with the Obama administration, but not yet with the new government.

Tom Enders, chief executive of Airbus SE, the world's No. 2 plane maker behind Boeing Co., said the company's studies have shown that 10% of airline fuel burn in Europe alone could be saved if air space was revamped. He expressed hope the political will that has lacked to push through those changes in Europe could regain momentum with the recent election of French President Emmanuel Macron, who ran on a reformist platform.

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Mr. Schmidt said Alphabet is looking to be a technology supplier to the aerospace industry on several fronts. Alphabet and Airbus recently began working together to help analyze satellite pictures. Alphabet also has developed a searching mechanism to find air fares.

The Alphabet chairman also suggested advanced algorithms could help boost self-flying cars and improved drones. The technology that allows computers now to have better vision than humans, which underpins the push for self-driving cars, could eventually have aerospace applications, he said.

Mr. Schmidt also criticized the aerospace sector for failing to move quickly. "The aviation industry as a whole has product cycles that are getting longer and longer and longer. That is especially true of the military," he said. "An enormous amount of citizens' money is wasted."

He said companies should embrace an approach of repeatedly trying and improving designs.

It is a sentiment echoed by Mr. Enders, who has been pushing Airbus to embrace tech-sector approaches. "That can bring huge efficiency gains," he said, cutting development and manufacturing times, yielding and promising multi-billion dollars savings on big new development programs.

-Write to Robert Wall at Robert.Wall@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 16, 2017 09:00 ET (13:00 GMT)