Have you ever made a break in the middle of your busy day, to reflect upon what the world is trying to tell you? Did you ever try to understand what the near future is preparing and what are the possible consequences on the aviation business?
I enjoyed myself by speculating a bit on this and more precisely, on what are the 3 main things that might significantly decrease the travel time in the future.
1: The return of the supersonic flight!
The Concorde was a superb project and all the aviation lovers certainly suffered a lot when it was abandoned in 2003. However 15 years later, the supersonic flight is almost back! there are new amazing projects, which take the best of the latest technological progresses. NASA has inked a deal with Lockheed Martin to develop a supersonic plane that will break the sound barrier by using low by-pass ratio turbo-fan engines. Compared to the Concorde, this aircraft will come without afterburners and will have a lower impact on the environment in terms of noise and pollution. Such new aircraft will however be 10% faster than the old Concorde with half of its costs. Boom Technologies is the startup behind this amazing project and it has already received relevant attention from the industry: Japan Airlines did already make a 20 aircraft pre-order and there is a partnership with Virgin as well. “Boom” is not really alone in a “race for supersonic”, other companies are interested in developing a commercial very high speed aircraft: there are Spike Aerospace and Virgin Galactic , this latter committed with its sub-orbital space aircraft. Perhaps also thanks to such a competition, we might see one of these jewels in operation already within the next 10 years.
2: Faster than supersonic with long distance rockets carrying passengers!
You have perhaps already heard about SpaceX‘s reusable rockets and its visionary CEO, Mr Elon Musk. Well, among his futuristic dreams there is also one seeing a further development of the SpaceX’ re-usable rockets technology. Mr Musk claimed indeed that a revolutionary use of the “landing capable rockets” will allow passengers to take “most long-distance trips” in just 30 minutes, and go “anywhere on Earth in under an hour” for around the same price as an economy airline ticket. This would make the flight duration much shorter than the one possible with any other aircraft (cit. theverge.com). But frankly speaking, I do not see such breakthrough so likely at the moment, though some key person in this business does not think so (SpaceX’s President, Ms Shotwell believes that ten years will be enough – source). However let us wait and see..
3: No more aircraft for short and middle range trips!
High speed trains offering better convenience and comfort than an airline flight already exist: the Japanese Shinkansen (for example) can now reach a speed of 320 Km/hours and, at least for short trips, it is already a valid alternative to a flight. However the competition with aviation might rise faster and faster while new very high speed trains are approaching their time of entry into service. The Hyper Loop train is still an idea but it is a fantastic idea! The train is designed to run within very low-pressure tunnels, so to reduce the friction with the air. In order to eliminate any mechanical friction due to contact between wheel and railroad, it should benefit of a combined effect of magnetic levitation and an underlying air-cushion, generated by the air extracted by the front of the train during its run. These solutions should let the train reaching a speed of about 1200 km/h, which in combination with the easiness of taking a train than an flight, might make of this train the actual aircraft-killer, at least on mid-range distances. What would still make the aircraft the winner of long-range distances, is however the expensive infrastructure required for such a kind of hyper-loop network. Of course rich countries might develop a good train-network anyway and therefore threaten the aviation business at least within the national borders, but it is very unlikely that this may happen everywhere. Perhaps it will happen in Japan where a new generation of Shinkansen is almost ready to enter into service. Thanks to the advanced MAGLEV (magnetic levitation) technology, the new Shinkansen should be capable of a speed close to 600 Km/hour. (source: the Guardian).
The future of Aviation has certainly further surprises: just think about the massive use of the internet, robot and AI (Artificial Intelligence). All such thinghs might imply the obsolescence of human pilots and the use of aircraft flown by AI. In fact the use of “Taxi-drones” with a size of an actual car is something almost already implemented in Dubai (BBC)
But this is another story and maybe another post as well… 🙂